Any restaurant worth its salt will have one important resolution for 2011: Stay alive.
Faced with escalating food prices and shrinking customer visits, chefs in restaurants big and small have a few options:
- Trade down to poorer quality ingredients (really bad choice)
- Increase menu prices across the board (pretty bad choice)
- Grow your profit margins without succumbing to the first two alternatives (the obvious right choice)
There are many marketing techniques that can help sustain a profitable restaurant in a down economy, but promoting the best ingredients you use is one of the simplest ways I know of to increase the table’s tab.
The best restaurants understand the magic of presentation. Seducing the customer’s appetite through their eyes is rule one. Most marketing campaigns are built on the same principle. Make a product sexy, you will attract attention. So before the plate appears, it’s important to recognize that the campaign begins with the menu.
Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, did some research to prove this point. He posed the question, “Does simply changing menu labels from generic, straightforward names to descriptive names impact sales or make customers actually believe the food tastes better?” The answer was an impressive 27% increase in sales.
In Turning Unrecoverable Overhead into Extra Virgin Profit, the power of promotion was demonstrated by presenting olive oil as a treasured tasting course instead of a lowly side dish. The next level is to feature these same artisanal ingredients front and center on the menu.
World-class chefs like María José san Román of the Michelin-starred Monastrell believe in it because they have proof. As the culinary world’s acknowledged, “Queen of Saffron”, San Román has been practicing this approach with saffron for years. Lately, she has turned her attention to artisanal olive oils and includes details about them in every dish – even positioned before the main ingredient.
At the opening of her latest venture, introducing an Oleoteca in her restaurant, she created a 12-course meal – each one showcasing a different oil from a different producer and region. San Román maintains that touting special ingredients much the way a sommelier would tout the perfect wine to accompany every dish makes every ingredient more valuable.
With “local and seasonal” firmly affixed in the vernacular, it might take no more than pointing out what you are already doing. If you source your produce from a local farmer, give them credit. If you use only those ingredients that are seasonally fresh and limited in availability, say so. If you create a dish because of its sensory appeal – taste, smell or mouth-feel – describe it that way on the menu. If you use a well-known branded ingredient, leverage its notoriety.
Bottom line, by highlighting certain ingredients as special, you make them worth paying extra for.