By Tuhin Dutta, Restaurant Consultant-
The menu at your restaurant will be the driving force behind your success. But how do you know if your menu is good enough? I have found that there are many factors at play when creating an exceptional menu including the study of guests and location, a sound budget and of course a viable concept.
You might have an exciting concept but your location might not make it viable. That is why you must study the neighborhood in order to ascertain if it will be prudent to do the restaurant you wish to create. You have to understand the spending power of the locals as well as how far people in suburban areas will be willing to travel to taste your food. Your concept can be a fine dining restaurant, a bistro or a patisserie but it has to work within your location to be viable. If you want to serve French food in an area saturated with French restaurants than you are going to have to work twice as hard as anyone else often for less profits.
One of my clients was faced with a problem in which their restaurant was in direct competition with four other restaurants with the same concept. They could provide the best version of French food in the area but unless someone walked in the door to sit down and try the food they would be none the wiser. To me the missing ingredient on their menu was innovation. By sticking with the traditional stereotypical foods of Europe, but enhancing the menu with new concept offerings the restaurant was able to serve those looking for the old standbys while at the same time showcasing a unique product offering to set them apart from the competition. We were able to remove poor sellers, increase the quality of old favorites and introduce additional unique offerings ideal for the more adventurous customers.
Another client was suffering from negligible traffic. I still had to address the needs of the neighborhood that we were aiming to cater to and look at the menu to see where they could adapt it to better meet their audience. It might be a matter of adjusting your menu away from a fine dining experience to meet the price line and work with suppliers who give better value for your money but maintain the same quality of preparation and presentation to achieve very similar results. Suddenly you are providing exceptional food and service for far more perceived value for the customer giving you an edge on the competition. Your menu has to incorporate a “wow” factor introducing an unparalleled depth of flavour that makes you the only choice for customers in your neighborhood.
Your budget will play a role as well. For the fine dining experience you will have to deal strictly in fresh, high end ingredients and have a plan in place to avoid waste. You will have to be willing to jump in your car and source the best possible ingredients if that’s what it takes.
Your fresh ingredients must address what is on the menu and what specials can be added on a daily basis to help move fresh meats and fish so you do not sacrifice quality or contribute to waste. You have to consider the dishes you wish to present on your menu and compare it to the cuts of meat and preparation time required for each. For example many classic French favorites such as Beef bourguignon or an Italian Braised Veal Shank does not require a lean, expensive cut of meat, but does demand longer cooking time and additional ingredients such as wines for braising. Each item from salt to herbs and meat to vegetables must be itemized on your budget and compared to the expected profit margin. Most restaurants look to marking up the cost on each menu item. Is that price still realistic based on the spending power of your guest?
I am able to address a number of restaurant and menu concepts as I have worked with many restaurants from fine French, Italian, Asian and Continental cuisine. I worked under the esteemed Canadian Chef Mark Thuet who has been a leading influence on my approach to food. Chef Thuet taught me the importance of maintaining not only exceptional cooking techniques but embracing the enjoyment of food. I keep these ideals close to my heart and mind when aiding my clients in finding their menu wow factor and assist them in answering all important questions to streamline the working process to make the restaurant a success.