Seasonal menu changes are fairly common and, for some, an easy task taken on by the Executive Chef in house. For some establishments, however, the concept is manager and investor-driven and they might not have someone who is capable of making menu changes. Other restaurants do have an Executive Chef, but might need something fresh and different to change up the menu that the Executive Chef has struggled to create. Guests are looking for those seasonal menu changes and they are also looking for stories. They want to know where the food comes from and how it ended up on the menu. They also appreciate the collaboration and camaraderie that spawn from peer-to-peer relationships in the food and beverage industry.
How can you bring in an “outsider” and make it work for your menu? More importantly, how can you do it without losing profit?[pullquote_left]Why not see what your staff can do?[/pullquote_left] First, why not look to your right and to your left? Ask around your kitchen and see who might have something up their sleeve that might fit on your menu. Did someone recently make a killer family meal that was based on their “grandmother’s winter stew” recipe? Does a particular cook always make stellar sandwiches for you after a busy lunch shift? Challenge your staff. Including them in the process gives them ownership and makes them feel they are part of the big picture. This could also uncover a shining star that helps you with succession planning and changes the trajectory of their career path.
Next, look to your suppliers. Invite you suppliers to come in and dine and enjoy the transformation of their products. Sit down and have a conversation with them about their products. Brainstorm with them and see what others might be doing on their menu with the items. Maybe your produce vendor has an idea – crispy kale has come and gone, but what about crispy Brussels sprout chips? The local brewers IPA might be a hit at the bar, but maybe the brewer also uses it to braise or in a sauce at home…you will never know unless you ask. Again, this opens up a line of trust and a friendship that might give you an insider’s peek at new items or even a social media shout-out from your new friends.
The easiest thing to do is outsource the task to a third-party consulting group with a chef network that can target exactly what you are looking for. No chef knows everything so hiring a category expert could give you leverage you didn’t know you could afford. It’s important to remember when you are going to spend money on recipes that the person creating these recipes can relate and blend with your current menu. While your guests will certainly appreciate something new, they won’t want to try a kick-in-the-face spicy dish if they are used to the warm, fresh flavors that you usually offer.
[pullquote_right]Consulting Chefs are economical because you get top notch talent for a finite period of time[/pullquote_right]Each strategy has its merits and all three can be deployed by you depending on what you need. Consulting chefs are the fastest way to get great results because they do not have egos. Their job is to make your food the way your customers like it while maintaining or improving your sales mix for profit. They are also less expensive in the long run because you pay for their talent for a concentrated period of time and then they’re off of your P&L, leaving you with a perpetual offering improvement. However, building a culture of creativity and inclusion allows you to develop a group of people that you have confidence in to bring your menu back to life. It’s never easy asking for help, but in this industry, we should embrace the merging of ideas and relationships that are created while working together to feed your community. Blend these approaches to keep your menu fresh and your staff energized to put love into whatever they put in the window.
Ray Camillo – Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting
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