Choosy Customers Like Menu Options

The Tavern Restaurant Group

Influenced by build-your-own menus, full-service chains are finding ways to attract diners with options for smaller portions, shared dishes, and customized combinations.

Customer choice has become the calling card for menus among full-service chains as they take note of the success enjoyed by fast-casual concepts. Now that diners are accustomed to designing their way to countless versions of burritos, burgers, and other fast-casual favorites, savvy full-service chains are creating menus that allow some of this build-your-own freedom. In fact, in select settings, diners can even choose the dining experience they want.

“Our restaurants have showcase bars for guests to enjoy casual, quick bites and drinks, plus full dining rooms and patios,” Scott Schmidt, COO at the Tavern Restaurant Group, explains. The Cincinnati group includes 12 units of The Pub plus the boutique brands of deSha’s and Nicholson’s. “Casual dining needs to do what fast casual can’t do. That’s the battle. We can’t win on value and speed, so we have to highlight the hospitality and offer a range of dining experiences.”

Jana Mann, senior director of MenuTrends at Datassential, a Chicago-based research firm, has been tracking a greater range of dining experiences that have manifested on full-service dining menus. Customization in full-service chains falls in line with a trend she identifies as Morphing Menus, which she cites in a 2014 report: Trends Impacting Foodservice.

From mix-and-match sampler plates to build-your-own burgers, customization is taking different forms in the various segments of full-service dining, but it clearly is making a mark on chain menus.

All in the Family

Family dining still has the corner on full-plate breakfasts, and many operators are finding ways to make those plates even fuller.

For IHOP, customization comes in the form of piled-on pancakes that entice diners with blueberries, cannoli filling, jelly, fresh banana slices, or a side of bacon and eggs. At Denny’s, build-your-own burgers, Grand Slam breakfast platters, and French Toast as an entrée bring customization to the menu, while a flexible pricing strategy has helped the chain weather the tough economy.


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