Lou Trope, President LJ Trope & Co. LLC
Odds are whether it is a luxury hotel, a boutique hotel or a full-service convention center hotel, the burger is the top seller. Although many operators will deny it, this pedestrian product has proven to outsell their culinary masterpieces. The fact is, in most cases, the burger wins; just check the numbers.
So the question is, if the burger is the top selling item have you done everything in your power to make sure it is the best burger in town, in the state, in the country? If not, why?
If it is the most popular item on your menu, why not ensure you find the best grind and the perfect bun, have the absolute best accompaniments, master the preparation and make sure the fries are “oh my” good? Why don’t you have the best burger in town? It has nothing to do with cost or size of the patty. Think about places like Five Guys, In-n-Out or Shake Shack; not a huge patty but really great burgers with people waiting in lines. It’s about making the commitment that OK is NOT OK.
Go into any restaurant and ask the server “What’s good?”. Odds are they will tell you their favorites and some will give you some insight on what to avoid. So how could something ever get on a menu that the guest should avoid? Equally important is that if the menu counts show that something is a consistently poor performer, how does it stay on the menu? It comes down to diligence and tenacity.
As an operator, I told my chefs when we were doing menu development that I would only ask them one question; “Is it great?”. If the answer was not an immediate “yes!”, it did not go on the menu until it got it to great. If it didn’t make it to great, it never made the menu. When reviewing menus either existing or in development you need to ask “Is it great?”.
A good way to do this is by rating the quality of food on a 1-10 scale. When doing menu development, if a menu item is less than an 8 it needs to get reworked until it gets a 9-10 rating. If it is unable to get past an 8, it should not be anywhere near your final menu. This goes for all meal periods with no exception. OK is NOT OK
The same is true for menu counts. When Jack Welch was CEO of General Electric, every year he eliminated the bottom 10%. The same should hold true for your menu; if items are not performing, they should be replaced. There is always the response that there needs to be a vegetarian or gluten-free item on the menu which certainly makes sense. The key is to create a dish that is amazing so that everyone wants to have it – not just those who are vegetarians or on a gluten-free diet. Just because it is prepared to meet dietary restrictions does not mean it cannot be fantastic. The same rules apply for all menu items.
This approach should also be taken with the beverage program – the house wine, the well spirits and the cocktail program. Just because a wine is a house pour or a spirit is a well spirit does not mean that it should be the cheapest possible regardless of taste and quality. These are all reflections on your restaurant brand and your positioning.
Let’s not forget the cocktail program. Making a cocktail is like baking, where exact measurements are crucial to the outcome. You would never make bread without measuring the ingredients and the same holds true for cocktails. All drinks should be carefully crafted using recipes and the best possible ingredients that support the concept from fresh juices, proper mixes and appropriate spirits using consistent techniques. In development, all proposed drinks should be tasted and rated; anything less than an 8 should be reworked or eliminated. The beverage program is equally as important as the food program and should be put through the same rigorous process to achieve the desired quality. Because OK is NOT OK.
We have all been there as operators and as guests, you look at a menu and can’t decide what to have because you know everything is great and that’s a fantastic feeling. It’s not an easy place to get to and in some cases takes months and even longer; but once you are there, it is so worth it. The guest will know, the team will know and your bottom line will know. It doesn’t matter if it is a burger, Buffalo wings, pancakes, black cod or a foie gras torchon; everything should be rigorously tested to be the best it can be. So no matter how difficult it may be, just know OK is NOT OK.