For many full-service restaurant operators, evolving menus over time—or even creating a menu during an opening—can be a challenge. Crafting a menu requires a lot of time, effort, trial, error, and experimentation in order to identify a collection of dishes that will appeal to a variety of customers and which can be efficiently and consistently executed by the restaurant’s kitchen staff.
“Knowing exactly what customers want has always been something of a mystery,” says Food Fanatics Chef Rahm Fama. “Nowadays, with one snap of a picture, you have to be delicious, beautiful, fun, and buzz-worthy. Finding a nice mix of all that on your menu is what brings customers back.”
At Torrance Tavern, which opened four years ago in southern California, restaurant developer and owner John Shapiro is past the initial menu development phase, but is constantly looking for ways to improve.
“My focus now is on brand awareness, consistency of service, food quality, and growth,” Shapiro says.
To get to this point, Shapiro has continually relied on partnerships with vendors who understand the challenges he faces on a day-to-day basis and who support his goals. Maintaining a consistent menu, while at the same time implementing innovations that will attract and retain new customers, is a key part of that process.
“It’s important to identify a theme or direction—something the chef specializes in—and really stick with it,” Fama says. “Menus that are all over the place are the ones that get lost in the mix.”
At Torrance Tavern, the favorites menu features an All-Day Breakfast Burrito, as well as a Goji Fried Chicken and Waffle. These items capitalize on current trends—serving breakfast across dayparts and elevating comfort foods have been shown to attract customers across demographics, according to a Menu Trends report from Datassential—and are also high margin plates. Thanks in large part to a partnership with US Foods, Shapiro has been able to consult with top chefs, who help to guide the implementation of certain menu items.
“Most vendors are not going to be involved with a restaurant’s menu development,” Shapiro says. “US Foods has been the exception.”
Fama, who works with concepts across Southern California, has been a big contributor to Torrance Tavern’s success.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a chef or operator say they don’t need help,” Fama says. “In the restaurant industry, there’s always something that can make life a little easier. Maybe chefs don’t need help making Bolognese, but there’s a lot of moving parts and they can use a helping hand.”
Before Shapiro’s restaurant opened, Fama began sharing ideas with the team to ensure the menu fully captured the brand, providing options that would serve a range of initiatives—from attracting customers to increasing profitability.
“It was truly fortuitous for us to be able to work with Chef Fama,” Shapiro says. “He knows what works and what doesn’t. We rely on his expertise and we trust his taste and judgement—it’s been a very good partnership for us.”