Serving Up A Signature Dish
Hotel Restaurants Should Market Familiar Menu Items When Reopening
With some very strong signals indicating that COVID-19 is set to finally bow out, now is the time to start thinking about your recovery plan in order to maximize revenues during the upcoming revenge travel period. We advise owners and operators on strategies to do just that, but for the sake of today’s short article the focus is entirely on how to reopen a restaurant with panache and profits.
Why care? For starters, a restaurant can be a great revenue generator to increase the bottom line and boost asset value. Less numerically straightforward is the halo effect whereby a great onsite dining experience translates into better overall guest satisfaction and more hotel bookings.
Understanding these two fundamental relationships, the current affairs matter to consider is the nonstop headaches of labor shortages, inflation and supply chain disruptions. This makes restaurant management a nightmare because you have to pay the increased costs forward to your guests while also streamlining service in order to turn tables with threadbare staffing.
And this brings us to your signature dish. Chefs are creative souls but reopening a restaurant amidst the three aforementioned challenges requires some strong marketing and operational sensibility, especially for a hotel in an urban capacity where there are numerous other independent and more agile operations to compete with. The signature dish can be a Trojan horse of sorts, serving as a high margin, popular dish that also succinctly tells the restaurant’s story to draw customers in.
In 2022’s recovery situation, simplicity is your best friend. Yet recently on an asset management assignment, we encountered an executive chef who wanted to remove his signature dish. As you can guess, this generated some friction between the kitchen creatives and the two of us who had to explain the above rationale.
The argument in favor of this substitution was that a new season and a post-coronavirus soft relaunch calls for a whole new menu in order to truthfully advertise it as such. And as political as any other organization, most of the senior team at the resort did not want to besmirch their camaraderie with the executive chef by testing his ego. But even though it may not be the chef’s favorite, if it’s proven to be the guests’ favorite then isn’t that what counts?
This is where I had to step in and apply some marketing wisdom as well as some statistics. The item deemed most popular was corroborated against POS sales data and a myriad of anecdotal evidence scraped from online reviews to verify it as a bona fide ‘signature dish’ (although if we had a social media aggregating platform this could likely have been used as well).
We had to put our feet down and fall back upon the POS sales data, in concert with a bunch of anecdotal evidence from social media and online reviews, to prove that the signature dish had to stay in order to not irk returning loyalists. From there, it was a matter of explaining that many people don’t just choose or suggest a restaurant solely by its ambiance or culinary style. Friends will say to one another, “Go [here] and make sure to try [this dish].” The two thoughts are intrinsically linked. Or a follow-up question to an inquiry about where to eat may be, “What should I order when I get there?” Such dialogue helps to paint a more vivid picture of the experience diners will have when they ultimately arrive, thereby helping to convince them to go there in the first place.
Hence, when an executive chef presents a new menu to me, I am very hesitant to replace a top-earning item, even if that chef insists that ‘people are bored with that one’ or ‘it’s out of season.’ Quite the contrary, the reason why it’s bringing in the revenues is because it’s perennially popular or an olive branch of consistency to the unadventurous. In removing that item, you may in fact be turning off customers who are coming specifically for it.
Just imagine the feeling of abject dissatisfaction when a first-time guest is enticed to visit one of your dining outlets because of a singular, must-try dish, only to arrive and not see it on the latest menu. However much a server attempts to assuage said patron with a, “Don’t worry as this new one is similar,” or “It will be back in season very soon,” that customer isn’t coming back ever again. It thus becomes a matter of expectation management, particularly as a restaurant’s reputation may be bolstered by that signature dish.
This principle applies to your guestroom packages and other hotel programs beyond just a restaurant’s signature dish or anything F&B. It’s but one core psychological principle we apply when tackling a consulting gig to ensure that revenues are optimized on all levels, and our hope is that you also experience tremendous gains during the upcoming peak travel season.