Lightning has struck, and you’ve come up with a great new menu idea. You’ve tried it out, tweaked it a few times, and you know that it’s pretty solid. You’ve had people that don’t mind offending you tell you they love it too. When this happened to me I’d think, “It’s a great item, so let’s put it on the menu right now; let’s do it tonight, right? Let’s get it out there as fast as possible. Every second that we don’t have it on the menu, we’re hurting ourselves. We’ll sell it as a special, and it’ll be great, and people will love it.”
This shotgun approach was my original path to a new menu item. The problem is that every time I executed a new menu item this way, with nothing else, the menu item would fall on its face and land flat. Operationally it was a nightmare, the staff was confused, and the customer had no reason to care about it. The team didn’t have the wherewithal to sell it, and the whole thing was a cluster.
This thud of a rollout would especially sting when I put a lot of thought into the menu item. Sometimes sourced ingredients specifically for this item to make sure it was perfect; it was heartbreaking not to see it succeed. I realized if I wanted to give these items the best shot at success, I need to invest more in the process and roll out, or else it was all for nothing.
Making a great product is expected; that’s the price of entry. Keying into the process of how to launch it SUCCESSFULLY is how you translate that work into sales. Here are the four fundamental principles to a great, well promoted, and operationally successful rollout:
1. Item locked down. This one most people get right. They key in on the item and test it to make sure it tastes great and represents the restaurant well. Even testing it with multiple people who will give honest feedback to ensure the item is legit and tastes excellent to various palates. It’s easy to get excited here, write it on a chalkboard, plop it into the point of sale system, pat yourself on the back and call it a day. The problem is more work still needs to be done.
2. Process set up for success. Once the item is locked, it needs to be documented in a format that all staff can quickly get to and review no matter the shift or location. Once the card is made, it’s time for the kitchen to show it off to the servers, so they know how to make it, and servers know what it tastes like for selling it. The kitchen’s order guides and pars could potentially change as a result of the new items on the menu, be prepared for that and make sure your vendor is ready as well. If you just added a quail egg pizza, don’t assume your vendor will be rolling knee-deep in quail eggs if this item is a success.
3. Menu unified and correct. Does the menu item have a story to the name, something fun but not so off-kilter no one would know what it is? Along with that, does the description match the rest of the menu in terms of verbiage and descriptors? For example, it’s not written in the first person, while the rest of the menu is written as purely nouns, no adjectives or full sentences. Does the price make sense and reflect the item’s worth, meaning the most you can get for it while still making food cost and the items feel worth the menu price? Then is the menu unified everywhere: in-house paper menu, online menu, catering menu, QR code menu, third party menu and anywhere people might find your food? Then have it launch simultaneously; the best bet is a Monday morning for the menu and all other menus to roll out unified.
4. Marketing with a plan. A decent professional photoshoot of new menu items will get a lot further than an overexposed shot from an old iPhone under fluorescent kitchen lights. These photos will sell beyond what your words can do and give you marketing ammo for your website and all social platforms. Promoting the menu items can be done on day one, or you might wait a few days to know the kitchen is firing on all cylinders before you do a massive push. After that, make a press release about your new menu item; you never know what or who will pick up the story and run with it. Especially in smaller markets, it’s a story, and nightly news needs filler stories every day of the week. Why not have it be yours, FOR FREE?
Sidenote: Also document yourself during this whole process. It doesn’t hurt your sales efforts. Even when the item isn’t right, taking photos and posting it to Instagram stories, demonstrating the journey is all a part of the marketing of the item. You might think no one would care, or I don’t want to show off the failures, but that mindset is wrong. Selling the process is a part of the story and it makes the customer that much more likely to want to try the final item. The longer the build, the bigger the response.
This method is what works; add more steps if you want but don’t do less than this. If you don’t do it this way, you’ll still get the item out there, but it’ll be confusing and won’t garner the potential notoriety it could. You want to sell the sizzle. You want to build this up. If you don’t, it won’t perform well. Even if you run a single unit store and love to sell items on the fly, you still need to abide by these four principles for the item to succeed. If you are living in the “daily special” world, that’s great, have fun, but it doesn’t translate to multiple store growth. It’s tough to do “daily special” across various locations and with numerous staff members and have it executed the same way and with universal pomp and circumstance. For most fast-food chains, it takes six to nine months to go from conception to menu. It takes that long to source the item appropriately with an iron-clad process and marketing plan upon rollout.
It’s rarely smart to copy chain mentality on product quality; it’s always intelligent to copy their systemization principles. These can make your life easier and your menu robust, executable and successful.
Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Instagram: @mikeybausch