What is the signature food and personality of your restaurant? What’s down deep in the subconscious of all your customers who make purchasing decisions? How can you find out what they believe your signature food personality is, and how can you develop a signature product within that area?
Step 1: Make a Committment
Signature Items deliver incremental profits. Focus on lowering food cost and delivering higher perceived value. That’s the value-added component. Evaluate your prep team’s competency in developing that product.
Step 2: Conduct an Informal Market Survey
The successful operators in this country are those who adopt a marketing-driven philosophy. Start with an informal market survey. Question guests, family, friends and associates. Remember: Perception is reality. Many signature products are not really special, unique, and interesting, but they’ve got a reputation that is driven by a perception.
Step 3: Look at the Local Market
Every single area in this country has idiosyncrasies which reach into the marketplace. Certain products sell best in certain markets. Be prepared to look at innovative cooking styles or methods.
Step 4: Devolp a Unique Selling Position: Why Do I Drive To Your Restaurant?
The best unique selling proposition statements exist right now with your employees, the people who talk to your customers every day. They know what the customers are thinking. Do you ever ask waiters, waitresses and hostesses what they think your unique selling proposition is? Value perception creates a higher price point, which expands the margin for you and creates a special experience for your customer. Everybody wins.
Step 5: Check the Waste
Want a great profit margin? Charge for something you throw away. Sounds weird, but think about it. Italian restaurants have known this for years; where did minestrone come from? Take a look at what you throw away. There may be some product that isn’t being totally utilized. You can not only lower food costs, but what is your base cost now on the new product? Zero.
Step 6: Know Your Team’s Strength
All the talk in the world means nothing unless your kitchen can efficiently and effectively deliver a signature item. Evaluate your team’s task competency. There’s no other way to do that but go in and look at them. Watch and study. Use a behavioral survey like DISC or ProScan (which my consulting company offers…hint, hint)
Step 7: Know What Already Sells
Look at your existing menu items that are the big sellers. Are there consistencies about what your guests love most? Keep those in mind when creating your new best seller.
Step 8: Look Hard at Your Purchases
There is a place for purchasing economy. Think you are saving money by purchasing a little from 3 or more vendors? Saving money runing to Sam’s Club? Think again. Food vendors make their money by the number of cases on a truck, the fuller the truck the more you save. Also, the fewer number of trucks you get a week will reduce your costs. Running to Sam’s Club might save a few bucks, however when you factor in gas, wear on the vehicle and time…you actually are paying money to run there.
Step 9: Examine the “Mise-en-Place”
This is the French term for “everything in its place.” The world of signature items is a world of line cook mentality. And what controls their world? Mise-en-Place: How the line is set up. How you’re set up and organized is a crucial component in your being successful. Say you design a great signature item, however it takes 10 components and crosing the kitchen line back and forth to get completed…that is a recipe for disaster on a busy night.
Step 10: Know the Recipe
The recipe drives the signature item concept. Personality and compatibility of new recipes on the menu are extremely important. And don’t forget to crunch the data into tight recipe costing. Make sure if you bring in a new item, that you can use it somewhere else on the menu. Cross utilization is the key to lower food costs.
Step 11: Make Sure the Recipe Works, First!
Recipe options… Working a signature item through your distributors test kitchen is a great way to start. Start with the staff at your distributors, so when bring it into the restaurant, it has been worked through already.
Step 12: Understand Price Point Limits
Menu mystique creates a high price/value perception. What’s menu mystique? It is why somebody pays $12.50 for “fresh halibut” and $13.95 for “fresh, line-caught, hand filleted, pan-seared Alaskan halibut.” What’s the difference? $1.45…about a quarter a word. This is about perceptions. Research your competitors within a five mile radius, and poll your service staff during the dress rehearsal. Ultimately the wait staff is the closest to the guest. They make that decision whether they want to recommend an item or not. I have a template to do this market research, just email me and I will send it to you.
Step 13: Ask Your Best Customers
Guest focus groups are a lot of fun and extremely beneficial. Convene a two-hour Saturday guest focus group. Sit down with 15 or 20 or customers and just brainstorm with them. But don’t just get feedback. Create interest, long-term loyalty, and a new sense of excitement about the menu. Guests who you helped create a signature item go out and tell everybody about it. That’s where the incremental sales come from.
Step 14: Try It, You Might Like It
Sampling is done on-premise. I like to do sampling over a one week cycle. Follow each sampling protocol with a 3 x 5 comment card. Ask three questions about the item. Sales of the signature item usually go up about 20% when sampling is being conducted.
Step 15: Train Your Team To Sell
Where does the first advertising impression occur? When you pick up the telephone. Get your customers thinking about your signature item even before they come in…”Thank you for calling Red Rock Grill, Home of the Sizzling Prime Rib Platter.…” This might seem corny, however, restaurants do make money from this suggestive selling.
Step 16: Guests Do Judge You By The Entrance
What’s the first impression in the main entrance? The 18″ by 24″ space above the door handle is seen by more customers than any other single space in your operation. What do your guests see? “Shirts And Shoes Required” or a gorgeous photograph of your Signature Item?
Step 17: It’s About Product Placement
Right next to the hostess station or the main entrance there’s an opportunity to create a little display area to merchandise your signature item. Track the line of sight of the guests. Walk through the door. Where do your eyes rest? That’s where your display should be.
Step 18: The Host Sets the Tone
The host and hostess set the tone for a special signature experience. They typically have 12 to 18 seconds between the time a guest is greeted and they’ve been seated to tell them about your signature item.
Step 19: Make it Count
A one-second glance. That’s all we’ve got. It’s got to be ingenious, it’s got to be exciting, it’s got to be a colorful visual image. Use table tents given by the food manufacturers.
Step 20: Practice Selling and the Practice Some More!
Develop a signature selling script for the initial approach to the table. Servers need to become experts at guest interactions and behaviors. A waiter or waitress who practices and rehearses a script will sell significantly more. They’ve got to practice, and you’ve got to build it into the signature item development process. You have to train to gain.
Step 21: Ask Your Team
Employees love to be involved in the process. Conduct formal taste-testing critiques on every new recipe whether it’s the signature item or not. And it is a wonderful benefit, as part of exit interviews employees say one of the great benefits of working for a restaurant should be the food program.
Step 22: Suggestive Selling Makes the Difference
Don’t develop a center-of-the-plate signature item without considering complimentary wines, beers, desserts, side dishes, an appetizer and some options on starch and vegetables. Everything should be developed as one concept. Pairing food items and concepts drives awareness.
Step 23: Make Inserts That Stand Out
It is a full-color marketing collateral piece. Printed in high volume, this free-standing insert gives your signature item’s recipe history, ingredients, cooking style, flavor characteristics, and customer testimonials. They should go into every marketing piece, newspapers, and local hotel lobbies to get the word out about your new signature item.
Step 24: The Power of the Press
Take the free-standing insert and let it evolve into a one-page press release. Collect locations to send your press release: the union newsletter, local newspapers, or Soroptomist Clubs. All of these clubs, publications and organizations are hungry for news. So create a press release about your new signature item.
Step 25: Make it Easy To Get Feedback
Immediate feedback is the breakfast of champions. What do we want in a guest comment card? We want to reflect that this is a new product introduction, and we want to get direct feedback. Then don’t be afraid to take that information and adapt, adjust, revise and modify and perfect your signature item as necessary.