How restaurants can update menus without overwhelming the back of the house.

Variety is the spice of life—and the restaurant industry. Customers have come to expect fresh, seasonal, exciting options and menus that regularly change. While it’s important to have vision and introduce new flavors, this can negatively affect the kitchen staff and create tension in the back of the house. Here are five tips to manage this delicate balance.

1. Fresh and interesting doesn’t have to mean a lot of time or be labor intensive.

Putting a simple twist on an old favorite, like transitioning a sandwich or burrito to a bowl can create a whole new dish that is straightforward and requires very little flexibility, making it easy to keep it consistent by keeping the ingredients and prep the same and just switching up presentation.

2. In some cases, the customer isn’t always right. This could be one of them.

Customer feedback is of upmost importance, but not always relevant. Use suggestions and menu critique as a starting point. Taking the idea back to the test kitchen could be a valuable and beneficial exercise for the research and development team. The goal is to balance guests’ wants and feedback with the stability of the kitchen line. You never want to throw a dish at them that is confusing and disrupts the flow.

3. Think about what competitors have done or what is currently trending and creatively riff on the good but steer clear of the crazy, weird, or just plain bad.

Embrace trends, not gimmicks. Avoid the urge to add buzzy, Instagram bait to the menu. You run the risk of confusing your customer base and hurting the kitchen staff with unrealistic demands and brand confusion.

4) Play on the strengths of the growing brand, but know the limitations of the kitchen.

Whether it’s a large restaurant group with numerous concepts or an independent bistro with a seating capacity of 20, consistency and timing are always crucial to the success of the kitchen. The recipe for brand success is fully understanding the strengths and limitations of the kitchen staff while creating exciting flavors. It makes no sense to develop something, present it to management, get all appropriate sign offs and not be able to replicate it to the exact specifications in a timely way. Every new limited time dish should be approached with the same mindset: Protect the brand. Protect the kitchen flow. Keep everyone excited and happy. Although it may sound simple, it’s a pretty exciting part of everything chefs must juggle.

5) Take an existing successful item the staff is used to creating and amplify it.

For example, take chicken wings and enhance it with a new sauce (wing of the month) or a dessert (pumpkin cookie skillet instead of the standard chocolate chip) or a topping (sriracha aioli on a chicken sandwich or a new flatbread). Don’t reinvent the wheel—tweak it. 

Expert Takes, Feature