Why menu innovation is at the heart of the restaurant industry | 2021 Restaurant Franchise and Innovation Summit

A roundtable at Networld Media Group’s Restaurant Franchise and Innovation Summit focused on menu development with experts sharing information on cost margins, revenue costs and managing expectations employees.

| by Mandy Wolf Detwiler – Editor-in-Chief, Networld Media Group

Menu innovation is at the forefront of the restaurant industry, with brands rolling out more menu items than ever after the pandemic.

How to implement new menu ideas was the focus of a panel session during the recent Restaurant franchise and innovation summit hosted by Networld Media Group and held in Atlanta, Georgia.

The event is one of many restaurant industry summits hosted by Networld Media Group. The media company Quick casual executive summit will take place October 3-5 in Charlotte, NC, and a virtual event, #QSRNext, which will take place on November 9. Now in its 16th year, the FCES Summit brings together the world’s best brands for three days of interactive sessions that delve deeper into the topics that concern restaurant chefs.

The RFIS panel included Mindy Armstrong, Director of Menu Strategy and Product Innovation at Buffalo Wild Wings, Alice Crowder, Director of Marketing at Krystal, Jeff Fenster, Founder and CEO of Everbowl and Chef Dave Woolley, Director delicacies at Buffalo Wild Wings. It was moderated by Brett Berger, Sales Director at SynergySuite.

Use customer and franchisee feedback

Armstrong discussed the best way to implement changes to the menu. At the end of the day, restaurants have pretty much the same processes, but at the end of the day, the menus are consumer-driven, he said.

“What we always try to do is create for our customers with our customers in mind,” Armstrong said. “But on top of that, we really try to spend a lot of time thinking about our team members and how we help them and allow them to perform with excellence so that we can delight our guests.”

The objective is to lead with the knowledge of consumers in the processes of creating products that meet the needs of consumers. Researching needs, such as a time slot, price, or value, can provide valuable information.

“We’re trying to figure out how it would work in our kitchens,” Armstrong said. “Would that require some equipment and would we make sure to test it in our kitchens with our team members working with our cross-functional teams to bring this idea to life by really rallying our cross-functional teams throughout the process?” , together ? If we can get everyone excited about it internally, it’s much easier to bring it to life in our bars and on our menu. “

This feedback comes from the technology and the use of guest communities targeted directly to this new idea. Finally, Buffalo Wild Wings performs product field tests to gauge customer reaction. It is important to work with franchisees during the process. So when new menu items are launched, there is already internal support.

Buffalo Wild Wings has a Food and Beverage Franchise Committee that meets regularly and “from there we get ideas out of them before they even go further into marketing and interacting with. some of the guests, ”Woolley said, adding that franchisees have recently arrived. to leadership with an idea that is being explored company-wide.

While the relationship between the franchisee and the business can be difficult, Buffalo Wild Wings believes it does a good job of incorporating franchisee ideas into its operations.

“The closer we can get to our operators, the closer we can get to our franchisees and the closer we can get to the business, the better off we will be,” said Armstrong.

Krystal also has a franchise subcommittee that meets twice a month, “but we also invite them to our qualitative and quantitative processes, so we do a lot of mock market tests to see through technology how an item going to do with our target and we do a lot of CLTs (central localization tests) that are quantitatively significant – case tests, if you will, ”Crowder said.

And everything is done in committee. There isn’t a golden palace that makes decisions for a brand. Everbowl was a pre-franchise company owned in 2020 and only recently began to integrate franchisees into their decision-making processes. Relying on franchisees is especially important in new markets, Fenster said. As a founder, he goes out of his comfort zone and relies on franchisees to learn about local tastes and sourcing.

“We have team members who contribute internally in all of these areas as well as our franchise partners,” he added. “As CEO, my main goal is collaboration and the understanding that the menu has to be dynamic.

With so many processes in place before a new article is released, find out where the business can “be nimble” and balance creativity with processes.

“If I’m considering making a new milkshake, do I have to go through an eight-step validation process to find out that people like ice cream and sweets? Crowd asked. “No. But if this is something that I ask my franchisees to invest in new equipment or a new protein or something that really has the potential to impact the menu, then this is where I’m really going to put my process and my time in. I think it’s unique with whatever you’re working on.

Crowder said it’s important to understand the guest and not bombard them with new LTOs. “We are a lot more tired of our menu than our guests,” she said.

Change menu

Removing items from the menu can also be a delicate gesture. Crowder said Krystal is undergoing a formal menu optimization, and while some brands are removing lower-selling items, she thinks it’s best to measure item redundancy.

“When we take something away, we want to make sure that the majority of people are able to find something else on the menu to replace that purchase,” she said, “and then to make sure that this that they replace has the same or better profitability than what we are removing. “

Fenster started Everbowl as a consumer, so he wanted unlimited toppings for his homemade acai bowls. He has to understand the costs of food and the wants of consumers in order to make money, as one customer may come in and cost him a fortune with a lot of toppings while another may cost him very little. The exchange of toppings is a no-brainer.

“Consumers want options, but they’re not going to use them,” Fenster added. By having unlimited options, people are less likely to go to a competitor, but they will still choose the more popular options.

It’s easy to go near-sighted and create a product to go viral without thinking too much about profitability, but in the end, the bottom line is most important to a brand’s success.

Buffalo Wild Wings has “wings” in its name, but the business is actually a sauce company with 26 sauces on the menu, Woolley said. This gives customers plenty of customization options and separates the company from its competition.

“New ideas for sauces are coming out all the time, so how do we take something out of there and replace it with a new sauce? ” He asked. They can take something out and replace it with an LTO, but can Buffalo Wild Wings remove a long-standing menu item? It’s not easy to do, as some customers will be upset anyway, but innovation and staying at the forefront of the industry is the key to success.

“I think you just have to be prepared to have these conversations,” Armstrong said.

Motivate employees

The panel also discussed how to get the management team to embrace the change as well. It’s been a tough few months at first, Crowder said, adding that she had changed menus in several different organizations and had seen firsthand how difficult it was to involve other members of the management team and franchisees.

“If people haven’t been there, they don’t understand that there is real science behind marketing and product development,” Crowder said. “I always say, give me six months, listen to the numbers and go.”

Of the articles tested, Woolley said you get one to three wins for every 100 ideas. Testing with franchisees and giving them a voice motivates them to sell more and embrace change.

“The food is very personal,” added Woolley. “We all have personal opinions about what we like and what we don’t like. It’s very difficult to teach someone to take their personal opinion off an X or Y dish and let the guest tell you what he wants. “

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Cecil N. Messick