Eating at home is one of the few changes brought about by the recession that still sticks. That makes the trend of the year “value on the menu: how to bring customers in, drive customer frequency and maintain their interest,” says Nancy Kruse, president of The Kruse Co., Atlanta.
Kruse spoke at the Menus 2011: Turning Trends into Money Makers workshop session at the 92nd annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago on May 22, outlining eight value components for success.
1. Technical expertise:The top five cooking techniques identified by chefs in NRA’s annual What’s Hot Chef Survey are sous vide, braising, liquid nitrogen, pickling, and smoking.
Braising creates a win-win, allowing the restaurant to enhance a cheaper, secondary cut of meat. Smoking adds depth and drama, and brining or pickling adds intrigue to condiments.
2. Freshness:Flavor, health, and value-perception are the benefits of conveying freshness on the menu. Freshness is a product and a process, Kruse explains. While citrus-broiled shrimp on the menu at Mimi’s Café and farm stand burgers with fresh spinach at Bob Evan’s convey fresh product, hand-scooped orange cream shake at Carl’s Jr. shows freshness as a process.
3. True flavors: Savory, sweet, fruity, and tangy are popular to the American palate. Savory brings a meaty quality, sometimes even without the use of meat.
Herbs provide another way to add true flavor, though women more than men tend to respond to herbs on the menu. Tangy, with its nippy and sharp qualities, is a flavor more restaurants are working with, especially in their use of cultured dairy products, as in goat cheese.
4. Premiumization: It’s fairly simple and extremely important to call out any element of a dish that speaks of premiumization, like the use of sea salt and the use of the word artisanal, as many restaurants are doing, Kruse points out. Calling out a premium type of beef also shows value. Fast-food restaurants are doing more of all this, setting the bar higher for other restaurant types.
5. Plate presentation:Consumers eat with their eyes. Food nicely presented is important, whether it’s a clean and contemporary presentation, or a show of abundance, as in Joe’s Crab Shack’s steam pots. White plate and iron skillet presentations convey value, as do stacked items. “Dazzle the customer with simple techniques,” Kruse says.
6. Customization: It’s part of consumer DNA now. “They want it the way they want it, not the way you want to deliver it,” Kruse says. The ultimate in customization is Which Wich’s sandwich menu printed on a brown paper bag. Guests check off the protein, bread, cheese, and condiments they want on their sandwich, giving them control.
7. Healthful perception: Whole grain breads, fruits and vegetables, and low-calorie menu sections are among the offerings that help create a better-for-you image. While only one percent of consumers have celiac disease, some 24 to 25 percent of consumers say they are eating gluten-free, Kruse says. Pay attention to how customers are responding to trends and adjust the menu accordingly, keeping in mind that health demands evolve.
8. Variety:Limited-time offers are a great way to add menu variety, and those that run less than 60 days are exempt from menu calorie disclosure regulations. LTOs also allow the opportunity to test an item, but they can also complicate the kitchen. Offering variety and maintaining quality control is a balancing act.
By Jody Shee