By Jim Doak, chef and culinary consultant, Corner Bakery Cafe
Menu innovation has become an important key to success in the restaurant industry. Why? It’s what modern-day consumers have come to expect.
With endless information at their fingertips, it’s no surprise that consumers are constantly evolving. A simple social media post might spark their interest in a new spice or seasonal ingredient, or a video from their favorite celebrity might inspire them to try a new diet. Whatever the inspiration may be, restaurants have to keep up in order to avoid being forgotten.
Through menu innovation.
Beyond keeping up with the ever-changing desires of the modern-day consumer, menu innovation is also an effective way to differentiate your restaurant from the competition. Unique and new menu items, such as limited-time or seasonal offerings, draw in new customers while continuing to pique the interest of returning guests.
So, how can your restaurant drive menu innovation?
Get to know the modern-day consumer
Gone are the days when you could rely on consumers to be creatures of habit. Cooking shows, food magazines and social media have expanded food possibilities, encouraging people to step outside the box when it comes to what they consume. According to Technomic’s 2019 Flavor Consumer Trend Report, 66% of consumers like to try new flavors from time to time. They don’t want to eat the same thing they had earlier in the week, or even the week prior.
This means that our culinary team has to stay on their toes, absorbing trends and exploring ideas to create new offerings. However, it’s important to always think about your brand first. Be imaginative while staying aligned with your brand. What is your brand’s mission? What are your brand’s core values? What do repeat guests love about your brand? Once you have all of this in mind, then you can move forward with ideation.
Changing the menu can feel like an overwhelming task. But I’m not suggesting you completely rework the wheel. Don’t throw away your bestsellers. Instead, use your signature menu items and flavors in order to offer something new, without straying too far from what your guests know and love.
Use signature menu items and flavors
When it comes to menu innovation, we like to let our imagination run wild while also taking into consideration what current menu items and flavors are resonating best with our guests.
At Corner Bakery Cafe, our No. 1-selling menu item is the Chicken Pomodori Panini because guests love its high-quality ingredients and big flavors. Instead of creating a whole new menu item, we crafted the Chicken Rosa Pasta, which features the same ingredients and layers of flavor that the popular panini does, but in a rich comfort dish. Not long after its debut, the dish rocketed to number one in our pasta category.
We also used the Chicken Pomodori Panini’s flavor profile to inspire a new Prime Rib & Provolone Panini, which performed really well and attracted new guests because of the expansion of our panini category.
Apple pie for breakfast — why not? We used this as flavor inspiration for our Apple Walnut Pancakes — slow-cooked apples with warm spices and chopped walnuts crown our buttermilk pancakes to create an unforgettable morning taste memory. These pancakes were a huge hit, so we decided to put the same apple pie-inspired ingredients on our steel cut oatmeal.
Menu innovation doesn’t have to be intimidating. With a few choice ingredients, you can expand your menu offerings without creating a lot of extra costs. And by re-imagining a well-performing dish, the restaurant doesn’t have to start from scratch in order to give guests the opportunity to try something new.
Using popular flavors and signature menu items as a starting point for menu innovation increases the likelihood of hitting a home run that delivers great sales growth and improved margins for the business.