Visibility is the number one source of lifeblood for a business, restaurants especially. A surefire way to be seen is by getting a different look with new menu items.
A new menu gives the restaurant, quite literally, an entire list of fresh items to promote in-store and on social media. You need a way to create the hype and a new menu is the perfect opportunity, but they don’t magically appear.
So how does one create new menu items? I have a six-step process that I use every time.
1. Two big questions
First, I review my old menu and decide what’s coming off it by raw numbers. Using the POS system, I run a 12-month report and look for the items that are deemed expendable. Then I look at the item, and even though it’s not selling, I ask two questions:
- Is this item unique to me? If it is, I may consider keeping it because it is an item that customers cannot get elsewhere.
- Can I rename the item to something catchy and create new buzz? This may sound like a corny idea, but it works. Time and time again we have changed the name of our menu items and this has been proven to increase sales of the item.
After analyzing the old menu — and possibly making what’s old new again — I can start the process of thinking what type of items I might want to add.
2. Do the research
I start to play another numbers’ game — counting the items coming off the menu and deciding if I’m happy with the current size. If I want to stay where I was, I’ll replace an item, one-for-one. Every time, however, without fail, I end up adding more items than we cut off (don’t worry, you’ll see how to navigate this challenge in the fifth step).
I then start to consider what I may want to add, beginning by looking for trends online. Is there anything that has gone viral that I can reproduce? Is there anything special that one of my hundreds of pizza friends on Facebook are doing in another part of the country? I ask another important question: Have I eaten anything lately that was inspiring?
3. Get collaborative
Once I have an idea of what it may be that I want to reproduce, I bring the idea to my team. If you’re excited over an idea, you may want to get to the kitchen immediately. However, you want to get another set of eyes on that cool idea you found online as soon as possible. Don’t get set on adding any one thing. Work through the process first.
Once your team hears the ideas and starts to think of ways to recreate the item, next you will want to reach out to your purveyors and ask for samples of different ingredients being used to create the items. If we add a new ingredient that we currently do not carry, then we try to use that new component on other menu items a few times, rather than just once. Think of it as a test drive — and there’s more testing to come.
4. Taste test time
At this point we should know what we are deleting from the current menu and what menu items we are adding. We should also have a good feeling of how we will be making the new menu item. Now it’s time for the (hopefully) fun part: the taste test.
I conduct tests in two parts. Step one is with the staff, and it’s very informal. Whoever is on that shift for the day tastes the new items with me, and we all give feedback. The second step is much more formal, bringing in family and friends interested in a free lunch and a new menu tasting. I print scorecards for each menu item and instruct the taste-testers to score on appearance, taste and marketability. Then I ask them for their favorite item that they tasted on the day. They always leave with a full belly, and most importantly, they exchange some great, honest feedback.
5. Final choices
Now, this is where it gets interesting, because even though I said not to get too excited about any particular item you may be adding, it is natural if you do by now. This step is all about reviewing the feedback from the scoresheets and voting on the final cut.
I like to review these with a very trusted member of my staff. I recommend someone on your team with expertise, such as your head pizzaiolo or chef. The comments and scorecard always seem to amaze us. If we thought we had a real winner, maybe testers liked the idea but didn’t like the toppings or exact pizza. In that case, we may modify the item by adding or changing a topping on it. Some reviews are far easier — we keep all the clear-cut winners and get rid of the clear-cut losers.
This is where I take into account how many items are coming off the menu and add the new ones accordingly. As mentioned earlier, you might have come up with some extra new menu items, but if they didn’t make the grade on the scorecard, you can forget about them (or keep them in mind for your next menu refresh). At this point, you are left with your new menu items!
6. Prepare to debut
The final step is bringing the new items to market. Behind the scenes, we’ll be working on updating all our menus between physical copies and all the digital platforms we may use. Importantly, this is also the time to raise your current menu prices, but that’s an article for another day.
Along with customer-facing materials, at this time we also create build guides for the new items and train our staff on how to make the products. Being that visibility is the lifeline of the business, I do a high-definition and extensive photo and video shoot of all the new items as well. Then I start to leak the pictures and videos at least 30 days ahead of schedule, along with the date of launch.
Trust the process, but be sure to make it your own. You’ll soon be on your way to creating a visible new menu that’s bound to create the buzz you desire.
Nick Bogacz is the founder and president of Caliente Pizza & Draft House in Pittsburgh.