The Recipe of a Restaurant: How to Break into the Industry

Open for Business

Have you dreamed of owning your own restaurant? Maybe you’ve sketched out what the exterior would look like on a napkin, daydreamed about what you would serve, or even picked out your china?

But have you ever thought of taking this dream one step farther and putting your ideas to work?

If you’re looking to bust into the restaurant business but aren’t quite sure of what you would need to do it, we’ve compiled the largest pieces you need, into one guide. And because opening a restaurant is no easy task, we spoke with Rob Coffaro, owner of Coffaro’s Pizza in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, to get his expertise on the subject.

Coffaro's Pizza

Prep Time

Concept- First things first, you need a concept. This may be something you already have under belt, but if not, you need to cement what your vision is for your restaurant. Having a more concrete concept can help you carry the elements you want into your restaurant more clearly.

Location- Whether you’re taking over another restaurant or building from the ground up, you should have your location. Talk to your realtor about the different options for your commercial venture. This will impact how you finance your restaurant.

Finances- How you finance will largely depend on your situation. If you are so lucky to have been saving up in your personal savings account, these liquid funds could get you on your way. If your credit is in good standing, a credit card could be a viable solution, depending on how much you need. Another option could be a restaurant specific loan or a Small Business Administration loan. A restaurant specific loan is not bound to a specific need and has a varying interest rates and terms, depending on the size of the loan. Based on the financial institution, this loan can have many different names but serves the same purpose. An SBA backed loan can offer lower down payments and longer terms to the business owner but can be difficult to qualify for. To qualify, a business must meet size requirements, be in good financial standing, be in the for-profit industry, and meet the credit requirements of the lending institution. Instead of going the commercial route, you could also have investors help fund your restaurant. If these are friends and family, remember that while the money can be convenient, it can also be a strain on the relationship.

Business plan- After you’ve analyzed the risks and you’re ready to take on the responsibility of owning your own business, it’s time to create a business plan. This plan gives you a guiding light when things seem dark or what to do next. When documenting your business plan, be sure to include information on your concept, team standards, design, target market, market overview, financial risk, business structure, and external individuals that will be helping you run your business (like a lawyer or accountant).

Legal matters- If you plan on serving alcohol or having a BYOB policy, make sure you check your state’s liquor license laws. Some states can take longer than others for this process, so if this applies to your business definitely get a jump on it!

Slice of Advice- Be Organized

Mix in Your Ingredients

Write your menu- It’s time to test out what culinary creations will grace your menu. Use focus groups of friends, family, and other chefs to narrow down what fits your restaurant’s style and flow. Make sure to also include various substitutions to accommodate guests with food allergies or dietary restrictions. When designing your menu, you need to keep in mind the physical look of the menu, how categories will be presented, and the pattern in how it’s read.

Network- How are you going to obtain the ingredients of your daily fare. Research foodservice vendors on price, quality, and delivery time but also keep local farms or vendors in mind. A great way to build relationships in the community is to partner these homegrown businesses which could help get your foot in the door for future events.

Get social- Start creating a buzz about your establishment. Choose two or three social media platforms that you are well-versed in (or are prepared to master) and begin showing the world what makes your business unique. You have a great opportunity to show the beginnings of your restaurant, from the first time you walk through the door to opening night. Use it!

Dimensions- Space planning can give you important figures such as your capacity, how many pieces of furniture you can order, and the image of how your restaurant will look at the end. There are many requirements that restauranteurs need to implement in their layout. Whether large or small, your restaurant can be planned out before you purchase a single piece of furniture.

Filling the space- To complete your restaurant, you will need commercial furniture and restaurant equipment (think refrigerators, ovens, etc.). Be sure to purchase products that promise quality and durability. Don’t forget to also pick up dinnerware, napkins, cooking utensils, and silverware to run your business smoothly and efficiently. It’s also time to finalize your menus and send them off to print!

Safety is key- In most states; you need to have a pre-operational inspection done before your restaurant opens. During this inspection, there should be absolutely no food on the premises. The pre-operational inspection confirms that your restaurant is compliant with health laws.

Build your team- The amount of upper-level management you need will depend on your business structure and size but most restaurants have a general manager, assistant manager, shift leaders, and chefs. You will want to look for individuals that are successful in recruiting, supervising, and budgeting. When your management team is in place, you can start hiring the wait and kitchen staff. From top level management all the way to the first-time job holder, training is important for seamless, united customer service.

Slice of Advice- Hiring

Let’s Get Cooking

Get your feet wet- Have your soft opening a couple weeks before your grand opening that introduces your business to the community. This lets your future customers get to know you and get excited that you will be opening very shortly.

Call your health inspector- Directly after your soft opening, schedule an operational inspection with the health department. Staying up on these issues is important for the longevity of your business.

Make it an event- For your grand opening, make sure that you are present and available. This is the time to enjoy your handiwork and introduce yourself and your team to all those who came out to support you. You should invite some sort of press outlet, but you may want to also hire a photographer to attend. Designate a staff member or friend to be in charge of social media that night, this is an event you will want to remember.

Slice of Advice- Do the Math

Enjoy Your Final Product

So your restaurant is now a full-blown operational business. That’s awesome, but the hard work is just beginning. You need to keep up on budgeting, food safety, licenses, and your customers’ overall experience. It’s important to keep in mind that while it may be simpler to hire the accountant and just leave the finances to them or hire an assistant to focus on staying up to date on licensing, you need to be involved. Just because your restaurant is open does not mean you can stop researching and educating yourself. Let this and every ounce of customer feedback drive you to become a better restaurant and business. You need to be involved with each workings of your business to protect and nourish it every step of the way.

Popular Restaurant Trends Throughout the Years

Popular Restaurant Trends

How many times a day do you see blog articles pop up on social media titled “25 Most Embarrassing Food Clichés of (insert year here)”? And once your curiosity has gotten the best of you and you’ve clicked on these articles, you see a list teeming with negativity about food and restaurant trends from years gone by. While these articles can be entertaining, hindsight is always 20/20.

It’s safe to say that the restaurant industry has had plenty of changes occur from its inception, some of them better than others. “New” trends are difficult to come by in the restaurant industry, with many ideas being perfected over the years. But as restauranteurs, it’s necessary to look back on restaurant history to see what’s coming in the future.

The 1950’s

The 1950’s easily became the golden era for American restaurants. The Great Depression and war were a thing of the past and left the economy booming. This time of prosperity made it simple for other industries to flourish as well. Due to improvements in the nation’s highway system, the need for stops along interstates grew. With more and more travelers on the road, franchise restaurants became more in demand.

McDonald's in 1954

Photo from allday.com

Many of these franchised restaurants are still popular today. In 1954, the McDonald’s restaurant we know today was bought from the original McDonald brothers and transformed into franchise gold by Ray Kroc. McDonald’s was not the first fast food restaurant, but the assembly-line system was revolutionary for fast food restaurants to come. Kroc was able to turn this humble hot dog stand into a quick and efficient franchising opportunity. McDonald’s franchise model became a beacon of success for other restaurants, like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dairy Queen, to follow in suit.

Highway System

Photo from nesbittrealty.com

With the highway system improvements also came advancements in the automotive industry. The 1950’s was filled with car culture; so why would restaurants be any different? While the first drive-in was opened along the Dallas-Fort Worth Highway in 1921, the 1950’s were the true heyday of drive-in diners. Serving up burgers and shakes, sometimes on skates, these diners became social hangouts for teens and families alike. The drive-in trend continued through the 1960’s and then declined with the increasing number of drive-through options in restaurants.

The 1960’s

Steak and Ale Menu

Photo from cravedfw.com

Although processed and junk food captured much of the baby boomers’ attention, it wasn’t the only trend happening in America at the time. Steak and Ale (casual dining) began offering a salad bar buffet to guests, keeping them occupied while waiting for their dinners. Soon enough, salad bars were popping up in steakhouses all over the country as a way to customize a guest’s appetizer.

Dining in the 60's

Photo from petermoruzzi.com

This decade was also defined by the meats served in restaurants. Most entrees at this time were focused around beef of some sort. Beef wellington, steak Diane, and Swedish meatballs were all popular beef dishes of 1960’s. In middle class restaurants, beef and lobster (or surf n’ turf) dinners were commonly seen on the menu.

Howard Johnson's

Photo from slate.com

At this point in history, there was an increasing emphasis on family time outside the home (vacations, a meal out, etc.). Popular restaurants of the time, Japanese steakhouse Benihana and Howard Johnson’s were often patronized by these families looking to spend quality time together and bond over dinner. In the 1960’s, dinner became more than just food and more focused on the emotions associated with it as a family.

The 1970’s

The 1970’s marked the beginning of environmentalism as the newest social cause, affecting the food and restaurant industry. Changing their tune from the 1960’s, customers wanted healthier options that were unprocessed and uncomplicated. This shift led to a rise in vegetarianism and health food stores.

At this point in time, there was a shift in gender roles. With a larger number of women in the workforce, restaurants were used as experiences with the family or a chance to get away from the preparations and cleaning up required of cooking at home. More casual-dining chains began spreading across the nation like the Cheesecake Factory and Ruby Tuesday, both opening their doors in 1972. For a quick bite, the 1970’s marked Subway’s start into franchising. Much like the fame of the McDonald’s assembly line from the 1950’s, the Subway assembly line was just as important for future restaurants in similar niches.

In finer dining, Le Cirque (New York City) opened its doors in 1974 by Sirio Maccioni and became a landmark in the city. One of the most infamous dishes to come out of Le Cirque was pasta primavera. This entrée soon became one of the most ordered items at restaurants across the country, its popularity spilling over into the 1980’s as well.

Le Cirque, New York City

Photo from insatiable-critic.com

The 1980’s

Innovation ran rampant in 1980’s restaurants. Chefs were taking creative license to create new combinations and dishes, making restaurants trendy and modern. While there were many traditionalists who argued against these new methods, it was certainly an exciting time to be in the restaurant business.

Nouvelle Cuisine

Photo from caraandco.com

Nouvelle cuisine was popular especially in finer dining establishments. Chefs worked hard to create elaborate presentations with their dishes, using the plate as a canvas. Popular New York City restaurants like Odeon and Quilted Giraffe used this style quite fervently throughout the 1980’s. Championed by chef Michel Guerard and food critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau, nouvelle cuisine allowed young chefs to be more artistic and not held to the restrictions of traditional French cooking.

Although this cooking style allowed chefs to be more creative in their practice, it ended abruptly with the stock market crash of 1987. With the largest one-day drop of the Dow Jones in history, customers expected more out of their restaurant helpings than the smaller, artistic portions of the time.

Chef Paul Prudhomme

Photo from investors.com

Another popular trend in the 1980’s was Cajun cooking. While other American chefs looked to other countries to inspire their dishes, chef Paul Prudhomme looked to his Louisiana roots. Prudhomme used classic Louisiana ingredients like blackened beef, crawfish, and shrimp to create exciting menu items such as Chicken and Andouille Gumbo and Cajun Jambalaya. The blackening technique became very popular in the 1980’s, being used in fish and other meat entrees.

The 1990’s

Fusion cooking was on the rise in the 1990’s. A trend, fusion cooking is the combination of different cultural dishes to create something new. Laying the ground work for this new trend, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck served dishes that combined French and Asian influences for an interesting mixture. Items on Puck’s Chinois on Main menu included foie gras with pineapple and catfish with fried ginger.

Wolfgang Puck

Photo from minnpost.com

While these dishes could be highly creative and delicious (like this Thai-inspired pizza), some chefs took it a step too far and created “con-fusion” which were unexpected flavor hybrids that didn’t complement each other well. The “con-fusion” was a result of the chefs trying to jump on the bandwagon and allow their restaurant to have the next big thing, which doesn’t always coincide with a customer’s palate. It is very difficult to specifically label certain “con-fusion” recipes as a failure because taste is extremely subjective. But something tells us that a recipe for spicy Asian green beans with blue cheese isn’t going to be our new favorite food either.

Fusion Cooking

Photo from guyeatsfood.com

Many chefs are not a fan of the term “fusion cooking”, claiming negative connotations from the 1990’s. Even though it is still a popular cooking style in the modern world, the term fusion cooking is not normally used.

The 2000’s

At the turn of the century, America became much more conscientious about their foods. Consumers were more concerned about where their food came from, how it was processed, and what was in it. This kind of curiosity led to many consumer-driven changes that effected food suppliers, distributors, and restaurants.

Super Size Me documentary

Photo from netflixlife.com

One of the most revolutionary food documentaries to ever hit the small screen was Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, which premiered in 2004 to a shocked America. It was common knowledge at this point that fast food was not the ideal meal for a healthy diet, but this documentary took just how unhealthy fast food could be and made it a living nightmare. After this documentary, many fast food chains began to evaluate their menu offerings.

Fresh food

Many consumers demanded more health-conscious options from all of their eateries. Even big-box retailers like Walmart were starting to offer organic options to their customers. So why wouldn’t restaurants as well? More restaurants began creating and marking healthier choices on their menus while others provided more detailed information about where the food came from. This kind of communication with the customer makes them feel more in charge and able to make more educated decisions based on the information that is provided to them.

Because consumers were aimed to obtain healthier foods (for the most part) they frequented businesses like Subway, Jamba Juice, and casual dining establishments like Applebee’s and Olive Garden. Some of the most popular foods of this decade included sushi, bacon, super fruits (blueberries, acai berries), and cupcakes. Many restaurants assimilated these flavors as a part of their core offerings.

The 2010’s

While we are 60% of the way through the 2010’s, there are still prominent restaurant trends that will have sticking power throughout the remainder of this decade.

Chipotle Assembly Line

Photo from qz.com

Restaurants that offer assembly line-like service allow for customers to choose how they want their food prepared are huge right now. The customer is able to tailor their experience from station to station to have their food made exactly the way they want it. This customization ability can be seen in restaurants like Chipotle, Blaze Pizza, and even Starbucks.

Coffee craze

Speaking of Starbucks, the 2010’s are drink-crazed. Whether it is coffeehouses or microbreweries, the interest in mixology has skyrocketed. Many restaurants are not limited to regular or decaf coffee offerings anymore. Similarly, restaurants are also producing their own type of craft beer or wine. There is a certain fascination with making these concoctions because it is all about creativity, and is great for expanding your profit margins.

In urban areas where rent is astronomical and constantly changing, the newest restaurant trend isn’t to become a physical building; it’s to have a food truck. This trend has roots starting in Los Angeles with Kogi BBQ truck and chef Roy Choi. With the help of Twitter and the combination of Korean and Mexican cuisine, the Kogi BBQ truck became a success that inspired restauranteurs to take an alternative route for restaurant ownership.

If you’re looking to create something new in your restaurant, it is always helpful to look to the past for inspiration to create your future. These popular trends from the 1950’s all the way to today have their time and place in history. The restaurant industry has a cyclical nature; trends are bound to find their way around again. While the subject matter of the trends may not be your restaurant’s cup of tea, at the very least, you can get a theme night out of it!

What are some trends (modern or older) your restaurant has tried? Let us know in the comments below!

Choosing Beer and Wine for Your Restaurant’s Menu During the Fall and Holiday Seasons

Choosing Beer and Wine at Your RestaurantWalk into any local restaurant or bar during this time of year, and you’ll find at least half the customers have a craft beer or special fall-favored wine perched on the table in front of them. Most beer and wine drinkers enjoy the new flavors that pop up during the last few months of the year. This is a great time to take advantage of some of these perennial favorites.

Craft Beers for November and December

Here’s what you’ll be seeing (and drinking) in beer, lagers, and ales:

  • Pumpkin. Pumpkin flavors abound this fall! Stock Pumking form the Southern Tier Brewing Company is a must, with a true pumpkin pie taste. Samuel Adams sells their popular Fat Jack, which carries a lot of spice and malt flavors. Destihl Brewery introduces Samhain Pumpkin Porter, a dark drink with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Fruit . . . and Vegetables! Add a little goodness with Atwater Brewery’s Blueberry Cobbler Ale, which has blueberry and vanilla flavors. Sweet Yamma Jamma Sweet Potato Ale from the Indeed Brewing Company is perfect with a meat and (sweet) potatoes meal.
  • German. Oktoberfest celebrations last from September through November and call for malty, Germanic flavors. The Sly Fox Brewing Co. has an excellent Oktoberfest Lager and the Free State Brewing Co. shares a great beer that has a mild aroma.

And don’t forget the presents that Santa may be leaving under the tree!

  • Anchor Christmas Ale is flavored differently every year, a tradition since 1975. It’s a closely guarded secret as to what 2014 will bring for this popular Ale, but you can count on it to be mellow.
  • Troegs Mad Elf, brewed out of Pennsylvania, has a just a bit of cocoa for those cold winter nights and large holiday meals.

Fall and Holiday Wine Suggestions

Let’s not forget about the wine. It’s important, especially in restaurants, to add some new wine to the list that evokes the meals and celebrations held in November and December.  Some wines to consider for fall and holiday celebrations include:

  • 2011 Saint Cosme Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge is spicy and fruity—an excellent choice for post-holiday meal time.
  • 2010 McManis Family Viognier is a white wine with a peachy taste that will go well paired with New Year’s Eve hors d’oeuvres.
  • If you’re looking for something a little different—and you’re ok with leaving the wine behind for a bit—Albee Hills is a dry cider that’s tart, refreshing, and doesn’t have carbonation.

Increased holiday crowd levels call for something different, so choose beer and wine that will keep people returning for their upcoming celebrations.

Sourcing Local Foods During the Winter for Your Restaurant

The local food movement has gained popularity in recent years as more and more chefs, restaurant managers, and even everyday food shoppers show a preference for locally-sourced food. It continues to gain traction around the United States as a growing number of people become more socially and environmentally responsible consumers.  If your servers can place fresh food atop your cafe tables year round, your food-conscience patrons will appreciate your concerns…and the tastiness of your cuisine!

"Fresh food for dinner" by Tammy Strobel, RowdyKittens on Flickr (http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8217/8333713835_2f486e2278_o.jpg)

“Fresh food for dinner” by Tammy Strobel, RowdyKittens on Flickr (http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8217/8333713835_2f486e2278_o.jpg)

Advantages of Eating Local

Eating local benefits not only those who produce locally-sourced food and those who buy it, it also is good for communities as a whole. Many people who eat local form long-lasting relationships with the farmers from whom they buy, and locally-sourced food is more nutritious than what you will find from your bulk food distributors.

Further, the environmental benefits are significant: food that doesn’t have to be transported hundreds or thousands of miles produces a much lower carbon footprint.

Sourcing Locally During the Fall and Winter

If your restaurant is concentrating on providing customers with locally-sourced food, remember that your menu may be limited to what is on hand in the region that you live in. You’re offering autumn harvest menu entrees now, but what happens when the snow begins to fall?  Here are some suggestions for finding market-sourced food during the cold months.

  • Purchase local meat and dairy. Raising animals isn’t limited to the spring and summer. Be sure to talk to local farmers and buyer’s groups so that you will be able to create new dishes using locally-raised meats.
  • Some Fruits and Vegetables Are “Winter Ready.” Farmers often use greenhouses, fermentation, cold storage, and other methods to grow produce the whole year. Many of them also use root cellars and climate-controlled spaces on their land that allow them to store produce.
  • Find a CSA Program That Offers Variety. CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, allows you to have a relationship with a farmer or group of farmers who will supply you with local food during the entire year. They often pool their produce and sell it to restaurants, schools, and families. The more farmers there are in the group, the better your winter produce selection will be.

Don’t let the cold months stop you from serving your customers farm-to-table food!  During winter, you can still offer fresh, seasonal, and delicious items that will tempt guests’ taste buds and convince them to venture to your restaurant for a wonderful, local meal no matter the weather.

Designing Your Restaurant Menu for Profitability

Menu engineering is about designing your restaurant’s menu to ensure your most profitable menu items are seen first and also displayed in a way that convinces your guest to choose one item (the profitable one) over another (the not-as-profitable one) while still offering enough variety to please many palettes. The first step is knowing which meals make you the most money!  These aren’t always your highest-priced items, but the ones that are the most profitable to your bottom line. Once you know which items you want to demand the attention of your restaurant guests, then you’re ready to start laying your menu out.  There is a lot of information out there on menu engineering, including software that you can purchase to create a highly profitable menu design.  But who wants to spend extra money or take the time to dive into all the theories in order to study the science behind how people read menus? To save you time and money, I’ve put together an easy-to-follow list of general guidelines that will help you create an attractive menu, which will also serve as an effective sales tool. I’ve combed through many articles, listened to a few speakers on the topic, read the studies, reviewed the statistics, and trusted my expertise as a marketer (and as an avid eater-outer) to serve you up the best advice out there on menu design. (Please note, these tips are for printed menus, not digital or iPad menus.)

Restaurant menu engineering

1. Choose a one-page, bi-fold, tri-fold, or book-style menu.  This depends on how many dishes you offer, but typically, less pages is better.  If you can shrink your menu to a one-pager without sacrificing readability (such as font size), go for it.  If you can separate your breakfast menu from your lunch from your dinner, try it.  If you can offer a wine, spirits, and beer list separately, why not?  Use inserts to promote profitable seasonal specials.

2. In general, people will start by looking at the top right of any given page or spread.  For tri-folds, they start at the top center of the middle panel and make their way counter-clockwise around the menu (so the top right page is the last spot they get to).  The lower right hand quadrant, back page, or last page are going to be the last places their eyes fall.  Knowing this, you can put the most profitable items where their eyes go first and bury the least profitable items in the areas of the page where they might not even get to before they decide what they want to eat.

3. Place your top three most profitable items into a box on the page.  Boxes (or circles) draw the attention to that item. The boxes should be separated and balanced on the menu. Shading or color will also draw attention. Be careful not to pick more than three items, though, because you don’t want to overload your customers with too many highlighted selections, because you may force them to avoid them all.

4. There is a debate about using graphics and photographs on a menu.  For fine dining, it’s not advised, since it lowers the perception of your restaurant.  For casual or fine dining, if you are going to use a graphic or a photograph on the menu, make it count.  Only show photos of your most profitable items; show the real photograph but make sure it looks appetizing! Don’t oversell your items via exaggerated artwork, though. It’s a fine line!  Too many photos or graphics can be distracting, so choose wisely which items you want to highlight with an image.

5. Menu descriptions matter.  Write a sentence or two about each item, not only detailing what’s in the meal/how it’s made, but also how it is going to taste.  Use flattering adjectives to entice the reader; for example, explain if the item is sweet, smokey, savory, spicy, smothered, or scrumptious.  If you need to hire a food critic or journalist to help you write the menu, it might behoove you.  Really think about the processes, too; ‘fried zucchini’ is nice, but isn’t ‘locally grown fresh zucchini, which is hand-battered and fried to a golden brown’ better? Keep in mind your customer might be willing to spend more for a ‘bed of fresh greens including organic arugula, topped with layers of locally grown healthy veggies, homemade crunchy croutons, and sprinkled with shredded cheese’ than for a ‘house salad’ – even if they are the same thing! The more appealing the description you use to whet your customer’s appetite, the more irresistible your culinary works of art become! (Note, descriptive categories are also important. If you make the most money on your sandwich selection, instead of the boring ‘sandwiches’ title, call that section ‘the best thing between sliced bread’ and see if your sandwich orders increase.)

6. Drop the dollar sign ($). Don’t draw attention to the price; you want customers to choose their meal based on quality not cost.  Keep the price tucked in next to the item description, not in a column off to the side.  It’s too easy to scan the row of prices and choose the least pricey items.  I still recommend using numerals (16) as opposed to spelling it out (sixteen), although there is supporting evidence to use both. I just think it makes it clearer and less confusing.

7. Be easy to understand. Use a standard font, nothing too fancy like a script.  Make it an average size – don’t go below a 9 point.  If your menu is easy to read, your guests will actually read it!  The use of white space can also be effective in making your menu look less cluttered and less overwhelming to read.

8. Minimize the selections per category to five or fewer.  If you have a pasta selection on your menu, only offer five or less. Sandwiches? Five or less. Seafood? Five or less!  We humans are really bad decision makers, and too many options leave us feeling confused. So confused, in fact, that we give up thinking altogether and just pick the least expensive item.  If you are a specialized restaurant, such as a burger joint with 25 unique burger creations, this might be trickier for you.  In that case, make sure you do not exceed five total categories (e.g., burgers, beverages, sides, and sweets) and keep the other categories very minimal.  Or, you could try breaking down your burgers into different categories (e.g., classic, spicy, smokey, tropical, and beef-less).  Following this rule of thumb will actually help you cut the least profitable items from your menu, which is a good business practice anyway.

9. In any category (or menu list), place the most profitable items in the first and last two spots.  Your guests will remember those the best.  If you have five sandwich options, your numbers 1, 4, and 5 should be the most profitable sandwiches on your menu. Then you can sandwich (get it?!) the least profitable items as numbers 2 and 3 in the list. Going one step further, if you put a box around number 4, that will be your top-seller.

10. Trickery can be mastered. By adding in a more expensive option, it will make your lower priced, more profitable item feel like a wise decision. Customers will instinctively comparatively shop your menu, so throwing in some items that you want to use as decoys can have great results. For example, if you have a classic cheeseburger and a bacon jalapeno burger on your menu now (with hopes of selling more of the bacon jalapeno variety for profitability), but the price of the cheeseburger is stealing all the orders, you can add an overpriced premium steak burger for much more to convince your customers that the bacon jalapeno one is actually a good deal.  If they can spend just $18 for the bacon jalapeno burger rather than $29 for the premium one, they’ll feel like their choice is rational.  However, when only compared with the $10 cheeseburger, it might be hard for them to make the justification in their mind that the bacon jalapeno burger is a good value.

For more on the psychology of menu design, check out this video of Gregg Rapp on the Today Show.

2013 Restaurant Trends

Balancing good quality with low prices is going to be the main act restaurants must master in the new year. Here are the restaurant trends we’ll be seeing in 2013:

  1. FRESH, HEALTHY, & ALL OVER GOOD – Quality is being questioned at every turn these days.  People want made-in-house meals with fresh, locally grown ingredients.  They want less grease, less artificial sweeteners, and more health-conscious items.  And they want it to taste great too!  If you are an unfreeze and re-heat kind of kitchen, you may want to consider what small changes you can make or menu items you can add to make your products more competitive in today’s chef-inspired culture.  Form a relationship with your local bakery for freshly made desserts or start a special salad menu that promotes ingredients from your local farmer’s market.
  2. PRICES IN CHECK – All that locally grown food cannot mean higher prices on the menu, though – at least not obviously to your customers.  It’s almost a catch 22, so for successful restaurants, it’s about adjusting the profit margins on different items across your menu, negotiating with your food suppliers, or offering different types of specials and sales. You may opt to increase some of your drink items to offset food losses, or vice versa.  Experiment with the bottom line, so the customer isn’t feeling robbed at the register, but you’re still making money.  With the ‘fiscal cliff’ and ‘debt ceiling’ all over the news, you know money concerns are on everyone’s mind.  You may opt to do smaller, seasonal menus instead of committing to the same one big menu all year round in order to keep things fresh yet your budget in check.  Plus, it’s intriguing for guests to know that every time they come, they can try something new.  However, I do recommend keeping a few signature items that people will want to come back for again and again.
  3. QUICK & CASUAL – With fine dining down and quick serves rising in popularity, more people will expect quick (but high quality) food in a casual atmosphere.  They want to stop in after class with friends, or not have to worry about changing their kids’ outfits, and they want to wear jeans and caps everywhere they go.  It’s a more casual world today, and restaurants need to cater to that sense of being part of their customers’ everyday routines.
  4. FULL COURSE TAKEOUTS – You know the mom who works a full day (probably is running late), and still has to get her son to basketball and help her daughter with that book report that is due tomorrow?  Yeah, well she’s looking for a healthy and hearty meal for her family on the run, and your restaurant could save her day.  Restaurants who splurge on their takeout packaging and promote their ‘to go’ menus will win in 2013.  Include heating instructions and an after dinner mint for that added touch.  Launching a new takeout strategy may work well for the existing finer dining establishments who want to try to target a new more casual customer base this year.
  5. MOBILE FRIENDLY – As mobile continues to integrate into everyone’s every day, your restaurant will need to continue to adopt to its fury (whether you like it or not).  Make sure your restaurant is being found on mobile GPS units, your website is mobile-friendly, and your menu is easy to find and up-to-date.  Offer paperless discounts and be sure your point-of-sale system is equipped to record such transactions.  Use social accordingly, and integrate everything you do to promote your business with mobile in mind.  Keep your eye on new restaurant apps, emerging technologies, and evolving customer behaviors to come in the future.
  6. SPECIAL DIETS – Pick a trend and go with it.  Whether you want to offer Weight Watchers® points on some of your meals, provide gluten-free courses, or star your low carb items, making it easy for someone to read your menu and pick a meal that fits their special diet will do wonders for your reputation and improve your customer satisfaction scores.  You may want to do something simple – like separating your vegan meals – or go full out with sections dedicated to people who must eat pareve or who are on the Atkins diet. If you’re not sure what special diet most of your customers are committed to, ask them.  Have in-store conversations, host a poll on your website, or open up some diet-related discussions in online social media spaces to see what’s trending within your target audience.
  7. INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR – Asian cuisine has been popular for a few years, and maybe that’s why dine-outers are more experimental when it comes to international flavors.  Regardless of what new cuisine you introduce, try something exciting from a different part of the world.  South America and the Mediterranean might be good places to draw inspiration from this coming year.  Cautious?  Try it as a monthly special before putting it on the menu year-round.
  8. GO BIG, OR GO SMALL – America is torn deciding if bigger is better or if they want small sample-sized tastes.  Fast food and quick serve joints are doing phenomenal with their big dinner box type promotions, but also ranking high in popularity are dessert shots, small sized meals, and snacky kind of foods.  ‘Average size’ seems almost boring these days. So try something big – or something small – and see what portion size works best for you.
  9. SIMPLE FOODS INFUSED – Some of the best selling items are the most common ones.  But how can your restaurant do them better?  Whether it’s a burger, a meat-and-potatoes meal, wings, or even a sloppy joe, you can turn something simple and ordinary into something out-of-the-ordinary by infusing some unexpected ingredients.  Get creative!

Are you trying something new or innovative in 2013?  Let us know how you’re keeping things exciting this year.

PS: If you’re looking for a fresh new look this year, please remember that some new, fashionable restaurant furniture will spruce your space up. (And we can help!)

4 Restaurant Trends Heating Up Summer of 2012

It’s hot outside, but are you turning up the heat on your business?  Here are some of the biggest growing trends in restaurants this summer:

  1. Outdoor Dining – In recent years, the number of restaurants turning to outside dining has significantly increased.  Customers are attracted to the great outdoors and enjoy knowing they have the option to sit on a patio while dining with friends.  If you have the space and ability to serve diners outside, perhaps you should consider applying for the proper permits and looking for some outdoor restaurant furniture!
  2. Chef Grown Foods – The buzzword of the last few years has been sustainability, and restaurant chefs need to be aware of the change in how people think about food and where it comes from.  Plus, economically speaking, if you can sustain some of your own menu items, it is win-win for everyone!  Rooftop herbal gardens are popping up on cityscape restaurants, but it doesn’t stop there.  Your restaurant may grow your own veggies, or take it a step beyond and consider a farm-to-fork program to raise your own meat, or even recruit a chef who doubles as a bee keeper.  By controlling what ingredients you use, you also control quality, which is also important to you and your guests.
  3. Seasonal Menu Items – From fast food to fine dining, most restaurants introduce appropriate summer themed menu items.  Whether you add bacon and barbecue sauce to your best selling burger, or launch a line of healthy salads (I recommend a mixture of strawberries, spinach, feta cheese, almonds, and a sweet poppy-seFriends enjoying an outdoor restauranted dressing), it’s summer time and you need to take advantage of the fresh foods available at this time of year and also meet your customers’ expectations for a sizzling summer taste.  Offer corn on the cob as a new summer side dish, or challenge your chef to get creative with other fruit and vegetable recipes.  Experiment with rhubarb, asparagus, or artichokes.  Don’t forget it’s also a great season to get the freshest seafood from your local fish markets.  Create your own spin on classic summer dishes or invent something brand new that hollers summertime.  Summer can be done well, no matter what type of clientele you cater to, so don’t be afraid to introduce fresh new summer specials to your menu today.
  4. Less is More – Summer diners tend to enjoy smaller portions, maybe due to the heat or maybe due to a change in summer lifestyle where they are snacking more throughout the day and don’t need a huge dinner-sized meal when they stop into your restaurant.  Be sure to offer some smaller portioned entrees, and don’t forget to give them a small shot of dessert, too.  Keep in mind many people will meet up with friends for just appetizers and drinks more so in the summer, so adding a great summer appetizer and cocktail list to your menu will be well appreciated, too!  Don’t forget to promote your local breweries and wineries, which often launch summer ales and new wines this time of year as well.

Whether you have an outdoor restaurant or are just making the most of summer through your menu (and air conditioning!), it’s a great season for your bar or restaurant.