How efficient is your methodology for menu innovation?

| by Juan Martinez
How efficient is your methodology for menu innovation?

The reality is that as a concept you really have no choice but to innovate your menu. Menu innovation, a very important part of any concept, can also be a silent killer if not done right.  It is almost as if "dammed if you do and dammed if you don't".

If you fail to innovate, your concept may struggle to keep the ever-changing needs of the consumers fulfilled, but if you take the wrong direction toward innovation, your core business can get impacted.  I have a rough saying on this, "If you don't menu innovate you can die, but if you menu innovate wrong, you can kill yourself."

So the solution to this dilemma is to get into the practice of doing what I call "Efficient menu innovation."

We start by realizing that menu innovation comes in different ways and can range in complexity.

Simple is OK

A simple way is to add new items to an existing day-part. You can add something to the breakfast menu, for example, using an ingredient that you you already use at lunch. This approach allows the concept to show it in the marketing materials as something new.  A more complex idea is to add a completely new menu item that would need a new operating parameter (processes, procedures, equipment platform, etc.).  Even more difficult is to add a new day-part (e.g. breakfast, late-night), or mode of service (e.g. catering, and on-line). E

Even doing a product a different way is also one other ramification of menu innovation.  You could go to machine-drawn shakes to hand-spun shakes, for example.  Clearly each of the aforementioned executions of menu innovation have different levels of complexity.

Of most importance, regardless of which option an operator takes, is to make sure that innovation does not impact the core offering and customer base because that could destroy a restaurant's existing brand equity.  For example, if you core menu enables you to deliver 3 minutes of customer service after ordering, you need to be cautious about introducing one that would take significantly longer.

Analyze the process

As you embark on menu innovation, your team should be involved in the process to analyze and study how any innovation could impact all the operating parameters.  This is just as important as understanding the food and labor costs.  These could include:

  • People-labor deployment (both prep and guest service)
  • In some cases, even the store management as would be the case of going after a new day-part
  • Place-layout and workstation design.
  • Processes and procedures
  • And platforms. Equipment and technology needs to deliver the offering

Look at the operating parameters from the eye of the employee.  Iif you make it easy for the employees to execute the innovation, they will drive customer hospitality, resulting in more sales and profits that can support brand growth, the ultimate goal of a thriving brand.

Understand strengths and weaknesses

In the process of doing menu innovation, concepts must understand their strengths and weaknesses.   As I have previously mentioned, consider that menu innovation has to co-exist with what you already do and as the old adage goes, you might want to consider doing more of what you are good at. 

Pay attention to peak and non-peak periods

Analyze the execution of the employee and consumer experience during both peak and non-peak business periods.  If you only analyze during peak hours, which many concepts end up doing to see if the new innovation will work, you may not have a good picture of how the new menu item is being executed during non-peak periods. The reality of most restaurant concepts is that from the standpoint of the daily business, there are more non-peak hours than peak hours, so slow periods of sales are just as important as busy ones.  If you have to cook to order at non-peak periods some items that are held during peak periods, the speed of service could be dramatically different. Consider that under this scenario, many concepts may have to hold the product longer, which would impact the quality of the product. Neither of these is good since it will impact the customer experience. Understanding this reality may guide a different formulation that reduces the cook time, as an example.

Don't be afraid

You shouldn't be afraid to innovate since, without innovation, a brand can get lost or become stale to the consumer.  It's important to make sure expansion is done in a synergistic way, so as to not affect the core business.

At the end of the day, the goal of menu innovation is to maximize the new offering without hurting the baseline business, in order to drive a higher level of profits and "unit economics." If you follow an "efficient menu innovation" methodology, like the one described above, you will succeed.  



Topics: Food & Beverage

Juan Martinez
PhD, PE, FCSI is a 33 year foodservice industry veteran. Juan is Principal and Co-Founder of PROFITALITY®, an Industrial Engineering Consulting Firm that helps foodservice brands improve their “unit economics” to support healthier brand growth. Profitality’s consultants experience span to over 50% of the “Top 100” foodservice concepts. Juan is a licensed Professional Engineer, with a BS in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Georgia Tech, and an MS and PhD degree in Engineering Management and Ergonomics from the University of Miami. He is a member of several professional organizations, including Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI), where he is a Professional Member, as well as the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE). As a “thought leader”, Juan frequently speaks at industry gatherings. wwwView Juan Martinez's profile on LinkedIn

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