Did you know that 76% of consumers crave a food first, and then select a restaurant based on that craving? As restaurant owners, this is a very valuable statistic because it means an opportunity to position your establishment at the front of consumers’ minds and drive them through your doors. So, with such a high percentage of people making decisions on where to eat based on a craving, how can you make your menu items more craveable? We’ve put together a short list of the essential factors that will have customer’s mouths watering at the very thought of your dishes.
What exactly is Craveability?
Craveability is an adjective that means having qualities that produce an intense desire for more. It usually relates to food and is often associated with items that are filled with salt, sugar, and fats. As of late, these specific ingredients have been the blame for food addictions and the ever increasing overweight population, encouraging restaurant owners to offer healthier options. We’re happy to report that there are healthier ingredients and foods, along with other non-food related ways, that restaurants can use to create the craveability that brings customers into their establishment.
Have you ever been captivated by the aroma of fresh baked bread when you walked into a bakery? Or taken aback by the smell of pizza in the oven at your favorite pizza parlor? It can stop you in your tracks. It excites you and taps into your emotional cues making you want that bread or pizza even more than you did when you pulled up in your car. Offering menu items that have a distinct aroma, or ingredients that stimulate our sense of smell, can really leave a lasting impression with patrons and keep them coming back for more.
The way you prepare your food can be a great way to trigger a customer’s craving. Customers might walk through your doors for the flavor of your grilled or fried foods, but run through your doors for something that is slow-roasted, wood fired, or braised. Many of today’s diners are more educated in the different ways to prepare food thanks to shows like Top Chef, Chopped, and The Chew. It isn’t uncommon for hardcore foodies to visit a restaurant simply because the food is prepared differently than what they are used to. Experiment with new cooking techniques, flavors, textures, and plating options until you hit on that highly craveable combination.
Every season offers up some type of highly craveable food. It’s safe to say that during the summer, we all want ice cream. During the fall, thoughts of pumpkin pie makes our mouth water. In winter, the idea of a big hearty bowl of chili or soup really warms us up. And in spring, the taste of fruits and produce are so refreshing. Offering specialty items on your menu that are popular during different seasons is a great way to bring customers through your doors.
Just think about a food that you ate when you were a kid. When you think of it, you are probably also thinking about people, things, and/or experiences that take you back those “good ‘ol days”, which is why these types of foods are known as “comfort foods”. Every time you eat a nostalgic food, you are taken back to that time, and you crave it more because it is associated with a good memory.
As a restaurant owner, playing on nostalgia by serving comfort foods can give you a built in advantage because consumers already demand them. But, you have to be careful because these foods hold special places in patrons hearts, so you will have a high satisfaction bar to clear.
You can drive craveability by creating an experience for your customers when they walk in the door. Whether it’s by creating a novel environment or re-imagining the traditional dining process, the experience your customers crave can bring them in. Consider the experiences you are offered at popular restaurants like The Melting Pot, Rainforest Café, or the Hibachi station at a Japanese Restaurant. Dipping various treats in chocolate fondue with your spouse on an intimate date is an experience. Having lunch within an indoor rainforest while thunder crashes around you and animals belt out sounds is an experience. Interacting with the chef at a Japanese restaurant while he flips a shrimp up in the air and catches it in his hat is an experience.
Now we’re not suggesting that you go out and buy a sound machine or start practicing your juggling skills – you can opt for something much more subtle than that. The point is that opportunities to create a remarkable experience for your customers abound, and building a lasting memory is one of the best ways to get customers back in your door.
The appearance of your food has a huge impact on craveability. Presenting foods that offer vibrant colors and a variety of textures can trigger cravings. Don’t be afraid to experiment with fruits, vegetables and side dishes that add a colorful flair to the dish, but only when it makes sense to pair it with the main item.
Staging your food properly can also have a significant effect. Remember that craveability is as much about psychology as it is flavor. Think of yourself as an interior decorator, and the plate is your space. If the colors clash, or if all of the elements run together, then the effect will be as unappealing as a poorly decorated room. On the other hand, a great looking plate can actually enhance the taste of the food and leave your customers wanting more.
If you are the only restaurant in town that makes a unique menu item, people are sure to seek you out. Likewise, if you only offer a menu item once a month and it’s one that creates a buzz, people will fill your seats.
Plan your menu around these limited offerings throughout the year by adding different dishes that pair with holidays or events, like a specific fish offering during lent or a platter of popular appetizers for the Super Bowl game. You’ll find that the limited availability of menu items may very well boost cravings which will in turn boost your sales.
Ever wonder why there is a pizza restaurant on just about every corner in the US? Or, why every ice cream shop seems to have a line around the building? It’s because these are inherently craveable foods which, whether through decades of marketing, the nostalgia factor, or some other reason, customers tend to seek out on a regular basis. Foods in some categories just tend to be more craveable than others, and that craveability creates built in demand that can drive customers into your restaurant.
While you don’t have to turn your bar and grille into a pizza and ice cream shop, it might not be a bad idea to experiment with new menu items that fall into one of the most craveable categories (pizza, pasta, desserts). Even if it is just a highly craveable appetizer or dessert that brings customer’s through your door, it will give you the opportunity to sell them on some of your traditional menu items.
Last but certainly not least, people crave a great story. How did you get started in your business? Why do you source all of your products locally? Why are you in this business? In today’s world, people are looking for a connection and are willing to support a good story before they support a cold purchase. The buzzwords “quality”, “freshness”, and “value” that a lot of restaurants chime into are everywhere, but your story isn’t. Take Chipotle, for example, which has built one of the fastest growing restaurant chains in the world around the story of “Food with Integrity”, which means using responsibly farmed products. Without a great story, the company would be another burrito chain in a sea of competitors; however, they’ve been able to use their story to create a unique position in the market that separates them from other chains and adds to their overall craveability.
Everyone has cravings. More often than not, these cravings are driving people to seek out foods that satisfy the taste or the experience that makes them want more. Restaurants can benefit from these cravings if their menu has that one special item that customers need to have. Utilizing these tips to drive craveability into your restaurant is worth the effort to keep your customers fulfilled while your chefs are cooking, your wait staff is hopping, and your doors are constantly revolving.