Whilst we’re not nearly at the end of the great casual dining reset, we’re already witnessing the opportunities this second act has brought to the marketplace.
Plenty has been written about the endless rollout of restaurant concepts across the past decade – mostly chains that initially enjoyed relative success with a small number of locations within the M25. In short, other factors we know now included;
• Lack of menu innovation
• Descending footfall in small towns
• ‘Copy and paste’ venue designs
• The subsequent over-reliance on discounting and vouchers
In our professional lives, we’ve seen how failures of control have dented communities of employees, suppliers and landlords. There is, however, a small group of operators turning these problems into a genuine competitive advantage.
Read: Why there is a trend of casual restaurants closing down? (April 2018)
Casual dining hasn’t fallen out of favour
The market is re-learning the lesson of ‘doing one thing well’. Look at the brands reporting good numbers and truly weathering the rent and wages storm (even if there are fewer competitors now). The Real Greek, Franco Manca, Wagamama have held strong in their core offer, allowing for incremental menu innovation.
Outside of the occasional marketing splash (Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino), planning for seasonal menus must always be audience-appropriate. Brunning & Price, for instance, keep to their pub classics (think steaks and pies) and add seasonal innovations, such as ‘pink grapefruit salad with saffron mayonnaise’. They retain footfall and enhance customer experience.
“Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus”.Gary Keller
It is a reminder of Starboard Value’s (now infamous) 2014 investor paper that continually referenced the ‘inauthentic and unappealing’ dishes that had been allowed to make up much of the menu at Olive Garden in the US. As the chain lost its hero products, it lost $millions in revenue and share. If you’re feeling brave, you can find the difference between a Lobster Spaghetti and a ‘Fried Lasagna’ on SlideShare!
Forecasting gives breathing space to innovation
Menu forecasting isn’t just about what dishes make their way to your menu. Aside from factoring ingredients and labour costs, how can you easily find answers to;
- Your most popular meals – if you’re upselling halloumi fries (that are sold as a starter) as a side to your burgers, how is this recorded?
- Are there too many items on the menu – having a good selection is important, but should you use the six starters, mains and desserts trick.
- Which seasonal ingredients worked – how can you go beyond soups in the winter, salads in the summer; and is this what diners bought?
Learn about Caternet’s Global Product Names here: What is live price software?
Seasonal forecasting basics
Every year of performance data in the cloud helps established businesses plan their menus. So how can a fresh enterprise plan their first seasonal menus?
- Locality – seasonal menus can be easier to plan for businesses in areas known for speciality production, even more so when the rates increase year after year. For example, Yorkshire is a producer of rhubarb, meaning most food businesses there enjoy access to the UK’s freshest supply.
- Balance – different times of the year call for different flavour structures and finding a balance between too much and too little of any element is crucial. The majority of us love a warming spiced bowl of stew to keep us going on a cold winters night, however it is important to make sure that a menu isn’t filled with too many of the same type of meal, there are some people who would prefer other types of food than soups and stews all winter!
- Food types – one easy trap to fall into is thinking that seasonal items means (only) produce, from winter vegetables to summer fruits, it’s easy to overlook other ingredients which can be used across many dishes. Spring lambs, herbs and honey are all grown and produced seasonally and can often be found locally, whether a small local farmer or an avid beekeeper just down the road! Consider every ingredient.
- Signature dishes – just as seasonality is important, some diners don’t appreciate change or don’t adapt well. Therefore, we need to accommodate their needs with a group of carry-over items, even if we cycle through a subset every two menus.
- Overproduction – this season and every season, renew your focus on reducing waste!
The same is true today as it was last year, and every year back to 2004 when Caternet began; businesses that decide to invest in catering management and reporting software must choose integrated, accurate data that ensures a seamless purchase-to-pay process.