Every year, over 42,000 restaurants open their doors in the United States. Alongside newcomers many more rebrand, and even more go back to the drawing table to revise their menu offerings.
Menu improvements allow restaurateurs to maximize profits, remain competitive, reduce losses and align with culinary trends. With costs of food increasing and income remaining flat, all but luxury venues must resort to highly focused menus drafted around consumer behavior. Restaurant chains with centralized distribution, and the bandwidth to conduct surveys, often utilize internal data to best determine what will work in upcoming seasons. Their product development kitchens do not go blindly to the drawing board, and their results reflect it. By the time a new menu item hits blind testing and focus groups, it has a 70 percent potential of acceptance among the general dining population.
Restaurateurs can now add one more weapon to their menu development arsenals. Online reviews, generated by customers and available via many online platforms (like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google+, Foursquare, and OpenTable) can be used to ignite growth and help with improved efficiencies in a way never witnessed before.
Reviews add a unique dimension to menu development, even when restaurant leaders have access to internal brand surveys, product development labs, and point-of-sale statistics. There are several value-added opportunities at your fingertips if you are willing to conduct disciplined feedback forensics.
Competitive Set Analysis
One of the most common search patterns in restaurant review sites and ratings aggregators is the desired type of food plus the adjective “best”: for example, “best Italian” or “best sushi”. Smart food marketers make it a point to analyze best performers and incorporate winning ideas to their own strategy, being careful to maintain their own character while addressing the local trends that lead to popularity.
Weed Out Weak Performers
Consolidating feedback from all social channels allows both individual restaurant units and chains to identify menu items that fail to deliver. So: track business reviews, seek out patterns and remove poor performers.
Establishing regular menu revisions that take into account feedback as well as sales allows restaurants to reduce inventory and maximize profit. In addition to improving sales and guest experience, quickly tackling less than popular menu options, or adjusting portions based on feedback, will result in a faster trend correction on overall consumer scores.
Test in Isolated Markets
Before rolling out a menu at a national level, it is possible to run trials on specific local markets. Isolating the reviews corresponding to the trial period will allow menu planners to secure feedback, revise recipes or remove menu items prior to investing in a national menu revision.
Tweak to Fit
For multi-units with national presence, tracking business reviews provides strategic planners with local nuances associated with price point and value perception. Additionally, it is possible to identify gastronomical preferences and local trends that will allow each unit to tweak menus or to create inserts with special offerings. This can result in increased profits and traffic, as well as allow for the ability to compete with local venues on the same playing field without diluting brand concepts.
Add the Extras
In addition to scouting restaurant reviews, due diligence in menu development includes understanding the conversations in local online forums to identify gaps. As foodies provide feedback to each other, it is possible to tap into opportunities for business not yet met by anyone in a particular market. Is there no good apple pie within a fifty-mile radius? Don’t delay; pick up the ball and run with it by creating the ultimate apple pie, becoming the next hot place in town.