We used to plan LTOs a year out and test product in-season. That’s become archaic since everyone wants to be nimble and have an independent spirit. You can’t set trends when you’re working a full year out.

Prolific is an understatement when used to describe Chef Slavin’s menu innovation across the Houlihan’s group, which includes the signature concept plus Devon Seafood Grill, Bristol Seafood Grill, and J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood. After adding more than 57 new dishes in his first year on the job, here’s his advice:

Michael SlavinVP of Culinary and Menu Innovation, Houlihan’s Restaurants Inc.Kitchen Energizer: Sound system Go-to Music: “I’m Your Boogie Man,” KC and The Sunshine Band (Everyone laughs at me, but they dance!)LTO Turned Keeper: Dos Carne Burger Favorite Newbie: Mediterranean Black Bean Dip. A shareable, gorgeous presentation. Gadget Fixation: Our Spiralizer! Lovin’ the beet chips and the 12-inch strands of sweet potato “linguine.”  

Create a Shakedown

We get product at the very beginning of a season and do what we call a shakedown, which is even smaller than a traditional LTO test.  We can do a 7-day, a 10-day, or a two-week shakedown with the product, and in another two to three weeks we can be launching an LTO.

Be Disruptive

An LTO needs to be disruptive in the creative sense, but not cause a negative disruption in the kitchen. But we want to keep our cooks and kitchen folks stimulated so they know we have some true ingenuity and innovations going on—that’s the best way to be disruptive. I’ve been having fun with smokers and with à la plancha cooking techniques, so that’s where we’ve been positively disruptive because it’s a new message to talk about and to get the team and guests excited about. 

Stay in Line

One thing to keep in mind is line space.  You only have so many slots on the line, and polished-casual menus have grown so much. Our kitchen was designed for 46 or 48 menu items; now we have between 78 and 92 items. For LTOs, think with the filter of what’s possible. If you force something in, just for the sake of new, no one benefits: It will frustrate the team and translate into a negative guest experience. 

Spread the Wealth

Always be aware of station load, which is the distribution of menu items. When you have complex items, you want to make sure that there’s a nice even distribution between the fry, grill, and sauté stations so no one person is bearing the load. It can’t all come off one station. If the lines can’t execute at a high level then you’re doing a disservice to your guest. 

Chef Profiles, Feature