With the roller coaster ride anyone in the market is currently on it is relatively accurate to say the economy is in flux. Although President Bush looks at it as a bump in the road, many analysts are proclaiming that the correction may lead us into a recession of unequalled proportion. The spreader of doom? Not really, when times are bad Americans switch their eating habits to comfort foods that make them feel, well, American.
It may be time to look up that favorite apple pie recipe, start saving all of the unused stale bread for raspberry bread pudding, and begin developing a new menu boasting pot roast, meat loaf, combination salads and pasta. The days of comfort food are coming back strong.
Does this mean fusion, frou-frou, and designer plates are going the way of the mortgage industry? It could be these restaurants with fancy fare and high prices may take a bigger hit than spots with more casual, welcoming atmosphere. The designer small plates will never completely disappear, but the new restaurants opening have their eyes set on comfort, relaxation and a style that is more soothing and heartwarming.
Let’s face it, when you give the customer the option of paying his mortgage or going out to dinner he choice (except for the very depressed), is simple. So it would be wise to watch the trend and review your menu.
Of course the pot roast and meatloaf plates have been around forever so bringing them back in there traditional form would be culinary suicide unless you are living in a pot roast belt. The key to any menu, and any plate, is to create and to diversify from the norm. That’s what gets attention and opens up people’s minds and palates. Plus, with a little creativity, you can make the customer feel as though they are ordering something special.
A great exercise is to get the entire staff involved in a menu development session. Of course the chef’s will shutter but servers know food. They are the frontline to your nightly focus group and customers discuss their meals, their favorites, and flavors with waiters.
Try this exercise: Have a staff meeting with the entire staff, prepare the top five items on you menu and ask for suggestions on how to make the dish more flavorful. Let those in attendance talk about it and share ideas. Find out what the customer is saying about the food. Have everyone write a paragraph with a suggestion about one dish on the menu. Review the suggestions and try to develop the dish with the suggested changes.
We all have to realize that competition eats away at our profits. If your kitchen is not watching trends, reading articles on recent food findings in other parts of the country and the world, if they are not continually experimenting with quality, flavor, and combination of ingredients you will get your butt kicked by the guy down the street.
In trying financial times creativity is the one ingredient that goes a long way in attracting customers. Have fun with some traditional food. Play up the fact that your comfort food is exactly that. Give your ambiance a boost and get the staff on board. The road ahead may be uncharted, but with the right menu items and fair pricing, you can increase customer count and still be the busiest place on the block.