Create a Profitable Menu
More often than not, restaurant owners create menus that are not customer driven. Initially, when you think of a dish to add to your menu, you think of the dishes you like. If you're a chef and own a restaurant, this article will not help you. However, if you're here to make money, this article may prove valuable.
Copying other restaurant's signature dishes, you'll have a great foundation for your menu. If other restaurants have had success with these dishes, why can't you? It's definitely worth exploring and if it doesn't fit your market, you could always tailor it to your demographic.
Copying dishes from other restaurants may not work for some restaurant concepts. This may be due to chef skill, inability to obtain certain ingredients, or other various factors. This copycat method works well with burger, sandwich, and some Asian cuisines. Think of your restaurant and now look at your competitor's menus. Do you think you can achieve a 90% replica of some of their dishes?
I would start with a general search on Yelp, OpenTable, and other restaurant review sites. For instance, say you have a sushi restaurant in the Chicago area. In this case, I would start with Yelp and search "sushi" and use "Chicago" for location.
Look at the results and filter it so you don't get any sponsored results. Choose the "Highest Rated/Most Reviewed" button. For demonstration purposes only, I'm going to pick 3 restaurants:
1. Toro Sushi 583 reviews at 4.5 stars out of 5
2. Sunda 668 reviews at 4 stars out of 5
3. Coast Sushi 634 reviews at 4 stars out of 5
Then click on each individual restaurant and look at the "Review Highlights." This summarizes all reviews and shows if a common theme is present. If you look at Toro Sushi, you'll notice the "Oh My God" roll mentioned 42 times in reviews. That would be a great roll to try to duplicate. Each restaurant you choose will have one or two stand out items that people rave about, focus on them!
It's like comparing an artist and their album, each album will have two or three songs that people just love so in essence you're just taking the top hits and making a mix CD of the greatest hits. Also, when you're at each establishment, you could ask the waitress what their top selling rolls are.
Now that you have a compiled a list of the best rolls, go back to your kitchen and duplicate them. I would make sure that you bring your sushi chef along, so it's not you trying to explain what was in it. After a couple of test runs, you should maybe host a small gathering with friends or family to see which roll they like better. See if your duplicated roll can beat out the original. Pricing is up to you. If you already have a current menu and don't have the budget to always add new items, consider a chalkboard so you can feature the roll of the week. Price it low, get them hooked and gauge customer response and price accordingly. I must warn you though, people never like to see price increases, but considering it was only a special, you may be excused.
Of course we need to distinguish ourselves from the competition, but that does not mean we can't tweak ideas to make them our own.
Thoughts and Comments? Post as a member of Foodservice.com or Facebook below
Posted by Brian Carrick on 7/10/12 at 11:40 AM EST
“Menu creation is not a difficult thing but one does need to be a part of a greater organization such as the American Culinary Federation of Les Amiss de Escoffier and to attend dinners put on by them. I remember going to Los Angeles in the 1980s to places like the Century Plaza and Bon Adventure hotels and then places like the famed Pantry Coffee Shop. Our former chapter in Bakersfield, CA, ventured up and down the San Joaquin Valley and into Southern California attending gourmet five-star dinners and coming back with a wealth of knowledge whether classical or advent garde. THIS is where menu creation originates as it does working under five-star master or executive chefs and even the one Black Hat chef under whom I apprenticed in the 1970s. I would say that as with any other white collar profession, one needs to have a massive home library to which, they can journey when in search of menu ideas, whether they be basics that transcend into new culinary favorites or totally new concoctions such as some of my “chemical chef” friends. While I do not associate my own skills with the latter, I do employ the former and for me, it’s been highly successful. Open your eyes and seize the moment! Thanks as always, Chef Brian Carrick, ACF Member, and WSCA, worked in California, Hawaii, and Washington State and briefly in Arizona. I commenced my career in the late 1960s as a busboy at age 12 and apprenticed to become a chef at age 17 in 1973. I’ve been in the industry for more than 40 years with another 10-15 to go. Publisher of the American Institute of Culinary Politics Online.” http://elementalnewsoftheday.blogspot.com/.