If you don't have a signature dish, you’re missing an opportunity.

It’s important to find a way to stand out in the restaurant industry. One way to do that is to ensure you have one dish on your menu that is to die for. There is real power in having a standout menu item, especially when you’re competing with restaurants that serve the same kind of food as you.

For example, I live in the northwest valley in metro Phoenix and within a 3-mile radius of my house there are no less than 10 pizza restaurants … 10! Do you know how many of them I visit? And full disclosure, pizza could be my all-time favorite food, and I’m going to search out pizza on a regular basis. My family and I visit two of the pizzerias in our neighborhood. One offers a Neapolitan wood-fired pizza and one offers the most authentic New-York-style pizza that I can find in my area. It’s not knock-your-socks-off good but it takes me back to my days of walking around in the Theater District in New York City and bar hopping from one little place to the next and then looking for a good slice of pizza. It really feeds those memories.

When I was a chief operating officer for a 30-unit restaurant sports bar chain called Famous Sam’s here in Arizona, our pastrami and cheese sandwich was to die for. We offered all the favorite foods of a sports bar but knocked it out of the park with this sandwich.

I have a good friend who has a Tex-Mex restaurant outside of Dallas. He trademarked the words “Margarita Capital of Texas.” This is because while his food is amazing, and I’ve been to his restaurant probably a dozen times, people are all about his margaritas. A signature dish doesn’t always have to be off your food menu. It can be a drink.

If you don’t have a signature dish, you’re missing an opportunity. You have to be known for something that makes you better than everybody else, something different, something that somebody has to have. You want people coming in on a routine basis for it.

The benefits of a signature dish

1. A signature dish creates a unique brand identity. It helps you differentiate yourself from all the other competitors in your market. Having a signature dish attracts new customers who are curious about the item everybody’s talking about, especially if it’s unique.

2. Having a signature dish on your menu encourages repeat business. A signature dish can become a customer’s favorite thing to eat and encourages them to come back over and over again.

3. Having a signature menu item simplifies your menu because by highlighting one or maybe two standouts you can streamline as you persuade your customers to lean toward the item you point them toward. You can reduce the number of choices on the menu and have a better handle on labor and food costs.

If you don’t have one, consider these things as you work out what your signature dish should be.  

  • Develop (or highlight) a dish that appeals to your target market. Design it to their taste preferences, not your own. Your signature dish allows you to showcase what’s unique about your restaurant through your culinary style, so make sure it lines up with the food you serve. 
  • Keep it simple. Choose a dish that’s easy to prepare, consistent and doesn’t require too many expensive or hard-to-find ingredients. You want it to be something you can repeat on a routine basis. You want to make sure you don’t run out of it and that your vendor can always provide the products that make up your signature dish.
  • Market your signature dish as well. Promote it on your website and social media and any other marketing channel you can put it on.
  • Train your staff to upsell your signature dish because by getting more people hooked on it you create repeat customers and great word-of-mouth promotion.

Creating a signature dish and promoting it effectively attracts new customers, encourages repeat business, and simplifies your menu. If you don’t have a signature dish right now, what are you waiting for?

David Scott Peters is an author, restaurant coach and speaker who teaches restaurant operators how to take control of their businesses and finally realize their full potential. His first book, Restaurant Prosperity Formula: What Successful Restaurateurs Do, teaches the systems and traits to develop to run a profitable restaurant. Thousands of restaurants have worked with Peters to transform their businesses. Get his three principles to restaurant success at https://dsp.coach/three-key-principles.

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