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Labor Of Love

Menu Creation Requires Team Approach To Get It Right

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Steve Pike
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For a chef, creating a restaurant menu is like an author writing a novel. Each goes through a painstaking editing process before the final product is ready for public consumption. An author has an editor who might cut down a manuscript from 1,000 pages to 300 pages; a chef might have a 60-item dinner menu that the food and beverage manager edits down to 30 items.

Chances are good that neither the author nor the chef is happy about what’s been chopped out, but each—if they are good at what they do— understand that it’s about what the reader or customer likes and not necessarily what they deem necessary.

Creating a menu (or menus) for hotel and resort restaurants requires teamwork, trust and some checking of the chef-driven egos.

“Sometimes you confuse a customer if you give them too much,” said Nick Velardo, vice president of food and beverage – restaurants at The Breakers Palm Beach in Florida.

For example, the menu at The Breakers’ recently re-imagined Seafood Bar started with 80 items before the number settled on 36.

Each menu at The Breakers’ nine food and beverage outlets begins with meetings between Velardo, Executive Chef Anthony Sicignano and Bill Lalor, the resort’s director of restaurant development.

“We spend a lot of time with conceptual ideas,” Velardo said. “It’s like bullet points. We start with the menu items we think will work well within that concept.”

The fun (tasting) part includes each restaurant chef followed by The Breakers President Paul Leone and General Manager Tricia Taylor.

“They’ve (Leone and Taylor) never seen the items, so they’re getting the same feel as a guest,” Velardo said. “We take notes and see what’s well-received and what needs to be tweaked.

“From there we sit down with the chefs and talk through every item and see what’s perfect and what needs to be changed. Then we go back to the drawing board.’’

At Jupiter Beach Resort in Florida, Executive Chef Ricky Gopeesingh takes a different approach to creating and finalizing his menus.

“Our menu writing process here is not so much a panel of people tasting and critiquing food, but more of a boutique style approach where there is a framework of core values that I always adhere to,” he said. “Our resort serves ‘Modern American Cuisine.’ It’s important for the food we serve to be recognizable for guests—no one wants to eat what they don’t know about. There is always something for everyone on our menus.”

At the Perry Hotel Key West at Stock Island Marina, scheduled to open May 1, Executive Chef Ryan Fredstrom is drawing on menu inspiration from his Conch Republic surroundings.

“When conceptualizing new menu items, (surroundings) is something I’m always thinking about,” Fredstrom said. “We plan to offer daily specials that can be converted into permanent menu staples if they prove to be popular among our guests.”

Product seasonality, Fredstrom said, also plays a major role.

“The food should align with and complement the vacation experience,” he said. “Working at a boutique hotel gives me the flexibility to make menu changes often, something which I’m confident will really appeal to both our visitors and Key West local community. When conceptualizing a new menu item, it’s usually sampled by a team of four to six people, which includes members of our corporate F&B team and ownership.”

The “tasting panel” at Opal Sands Resort in Clearwater Beach, FL, generally consists of five to six people, including the executive chef at the Sea-Guini restaurant, and sous chefs, according to resort F&B Director Justin Burk, who also is on the panel.

“After tasting and discussing the items, and making whatever tweaks necessary to the recipes, we then use the proposed items as “nightly specials,’” Burk said. “This gives us a chance to get feedback from the most important people—our guests. After receiving our guests’ feedback, we might tweak the recipes one more time.”

When creating a menu at the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, Executive Chef Romeo Penacino brainstorms with his team of chefs and does plenty of research of trends and the competition.

“We prioritize products that are fresh, in season, and that we can get easily to the island. Then we follow the process by making tests on the new creations, add or remove ingredients and try different ways to present them,” Penacino said. “We go through three rounds of tastings before dishes are added to our menus.

“The first tasting we do is with the executive chef, executive sous chef, restaurant chef, and supervisors. We explain the different dishes and steps we followed to create each dish. We get feedback from our coworkers on taste and presentation and sometimes will slightly modify the dishes. We take photos of the new dishes so then later we can present the photos with recipes to the kitchen staff.”

The second tasting, Penacino said, is with the same staff but with the addition of the F&B director, supervisors and waiters.

“The third and final tasting is the same staff as the second tasting and we also invite the general manager,” he said. ‘In this tasting, it’s key to give as much detail as possible so the waiters can sell it and recommend it to our customers.

“The kitchen's restaurant must have the documentation with the ingredients list, recipe and matching picture before the menu is launched. Typically, within a week or two maximum, the new menu is offered to our customers.”

Credit
Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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