Menu Design Success: Culinary Development a Recipe for Success

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Menu Design Success: Culinary Development

Hands down, the most important element for menu design success is the culinary experience it delivers to its guests. Whether your guests are trying new exotic tastes or coming back for old favorites, it’s your restaurant’s food that makes the experience memorable.  Your brand, and its promise, should come shining through your menu items, and your success in accomplishing that will be the defining difference between you and your competition.

Appealing to the Senses

Creating a menu of carefully selected, relevant and inviting items that speak your brand ensures that your guests not only experience your unique differences through what they see but also through what they taste. Avoid the temptation to be all things to all guests. If a menu item isn’t consistent with the personality of your restaurant, leave it off. Your guests are counting on you to deliver a dining experience that is authentic and connected to who you say you are as a concept. Don’t disappoint them.

One of our clients, Mel’s Diner, a Southwest Florida restaurant chain, was looking to upgrade the dining experience they deliver by evolving their menu towards a more gourmet dining experience. The restaurant’s makeover, which included all new design elements, was brought home by new menu items in development ,such as Millionaires Southern Fried Chicken featuring a whole fried Cornish game hen served with Yukon mashed potatoes and fresh seasonal sautéed vegetables.

Entrees such as these put the gourmet spin on traditional comfort food so guests can get a real taste of gourmet while maintaining elements of the traditional diner experience.

Complimentary Meal

One of the hallmarks of a great menu is the successful storytelling of the brand through the names and descriptions of its items. Guests are on the lookout for items that reflect familiar favorites prepared and presented in new and exciting ways.  Featuring the unique aspects of your concept through creative and clever names and descriptions is your gateway into the hearts and taste buds of your guests.

Miami Beach’s Afterglo restaurant is pioneering a culinary concept called beauty cuisine.  Packed with enzymes, minerals, and antioxidants, Afterglo’s dishes are designed to beautify the body.  Each of Afterglo’s menu items reflects this philosophy with descriptive names like A Beautiful Mind salad and the Yin/Yang cream cheese tart dessert.

Remember, your guests will spend only an average of two minutes with your menu, so the names, description and layout of your menu are vitally important.  The organization of menu items, the typeface and color palette do not only convey your restaurant’s image, but can also be strategically geared towards increasing profits.

Think of each slot on your menu as real estate and only place items in high profile areas that will not only reinforce your brand promise but deliver profitability as well.

The Signature Dish

There is no better way to gain a strong foothold in a defined theme than through signature dishes and drinks.  These items are the original creations of your restaurant and establish defining differences between you and other restaurants in your category.  Own a dish and you make your competition obsolete in that menu category. You want your guests to say, When I want a steak I only go to [insert your restaurant’s name here]. As we like to say, don’t be the best at what you do, be the only one who does what you do!

We recently helped Po Boys Creole Cafe roll out a new menu category that accomplished just that.  By creating a customized burger category that included The Mud Bug Burger, topped with fried crawfish, and The Bayou Burger, topped with smoked cheese, beer-battered onion rings and a spicy barbeque sauce, they were instantly set  apart from their competition, and their New Orleans/Voodoo- themed ambiance and distinctive offbeat personality was decidedly reinforced.

Drink Up

A savvy beverage menu will boost sales and create unique niches that will be hard to duplicate by your competitors. The repackaging of successful traditional favorites through creative naming and distinctive glassware can be combined with several signature cocktails of your own creation to create a unique offering.  Successful beverage programs offer breadth through expansion of wine lists, beer choices, cordials, signature drinks, coffee and tea service, and non-alcoholic specialty drinks.

Our consultants develop world class beverage menus that enhance the guest experience, drive home the personality of the brand and contribute significantly to the bottom line.  These beverage menus are then promoted and merchandized through specialty drink table menus, featuring eye-catching images and entertaining names and descriptions.

Identify the Trends

Every menu should be in constant state of evolution. It’s one of the most effective avenues to keeping your brand fresh and relevant. Keeping on top of current and emerging trends is a vital component to menu mix management. Determining what’s hot and what’s not is easy. Figuring out what trends will endure the test of time and produce for you is the hard part.

Avoid the temptation to heavily invest your menu real estate in quickly emerging food fads. Test items through specials or black boarding to measure how well your guests will respond. This will save you from incurring costs associated with obsolete inventories and menu reprinting. And remember, it may be the hottest culinary trend out there but if it doesn’t pull its weight in brand reinforcement and profitability it is not only useless to you but could very well hurt you.

Our culinary department emphasizes research to not only identify present trends and predict future trends but also to evaluate their staying power.  When developing menus for clients, extensive research is conducted into category overviews and competitive analysis. If a new brand is being created from scratch, focus groups are sometimes conducted to gauge consumer response.  If it is an existing brand undergoing a renovation, extensive menu mix and profitability analysis is performed to facilitate decisions on what will stay and what will be replaced or improved.

All the while, our expert team keeps an eye on operational impacts, procurement and supply chain considerations and potential economies of scale. The results are cutting edge, well-balanced, operationally friendly and profitable menus that speak the brand and reinforce its one-of-a-kind attributes.

Kitchen Experiment

Developing menu items soon transitions from research and ideation to the nuts and bolts process of developing cost effective recipes and exacting flavor profiles.

Our culinary development department offers its clients the unique opportunity to test drive menu items and recipes in a live kitchen environment.  The talented culinary team brings the knowledge and expertise necessary to develop inspiring dishes while considering the demands placed on your restaurant’s kitchen.  Our in-house culinary team will fine tune each recipe to ensure speed, quality, consistency, cost control, and ultimately to inspire delight in the hearts and on the palates of your guests.

Results from the test kitchen are then assembled into recipe manuals for the restaurant’s operations staff.  Complete with cooking instructions, yields, and color photographs of the finished products, the manuals provide consistency of taste, presentation and cost control.

Good Impressions

Once your menu is complete with appealing recipes that embody your restaurant’s brand, the best way to showcase them is through alluring plate ware, service ware, flatware, and glassware. It is important that the presentation you choose for your dishes enhances their unique characteristics, not overpower them.

Fancy doesn’t always cut it. Sometimes plain and simple plates do a better job of letting the food speak for itself. Plates that are too large will make your portions look measly while plates that are too small may make the guest feel overwhelmed or make the dish hard to eat. Try different food arrangements and be mindful of how sauces will run to protect the flavor of accompanying items.

If patterned plate ware is desired, make sure its design is relevant and complimentary. Make sure your garnishments are appropriate in size and shape and are super fresh. There is nothing more unappetizing than a wilted piece of parsley thrown on a plate just for the sake of it. Garnishes should enhance the dish by adding color, texture and that all-important fresh cue.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Your restaurant can be elegant, hip, creative, fun or offbeat, but if it can’t deliver the promise of your brand through its food, your concept will fall flat and soon become stagnant and irrelevant. Creating great menus is a process of blending creative force with analytical principles. In essence, it is finding the perfect balance between art and science.

Let our Culinary Development department prove its leadership in forward-thinking, cutting-edge menu development and culinary services by capturing your brand and bringing it home to all your guests through each of their senses, especially their taste buds!

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