Most restaurant owners and managers I talk to admit they get most of their menu ideas from…
… other restaurant operators.
Sure, some start with old family recipes. A few admit watching food shows for inspiration. Never have I heard an operator say “I created this gazpacho recipe because I read a trend report that said cold soups are the next big thing.”
Food people are no different than other humans. They relate best to others who live similar lives. That’s why operators love to dine out with and hear stories from fellow cooks and chefs from another part of the world.
An important lesson for us marketer types is to realize our product story is more interesting when told through the words of people who actually make meals every day. Nothing against ideas coming from the Brand X test kitchen — they are worthy concepts. But it’s hard to beat the authenticity of an actual operator who makes money using the product with a creative, local twist.
Why does a popular Omaha restaurant sell a gazillion “carrot hot dogs” in the middle of the beef capital? How did the Czech-inspired kolache that combines a doughnut-like pastry stuffed with sausage become the hit of central Texas? Explain the popularity of Spam in Hawaii.
Or what makes the chili burrito at the world’s only vegan strip club in Portland, Oregon a big seller? Combining awesome vegan food and adult entertainment is just a natural, right? Well, it is in Portland where there are probably more strip clubs than microbreweries for which the city is famous. I truly have a respectable answer for knowing this fact.
OK, you may not want to promote a strip club… but you must admit it would be an interesting application for your chili beans.
So, what to do…
- Embellish your recipe ideas. Tie a local or regional story behind your next recipe idea — not just the ingredient list and prep steps. The history or backstory intrigues operators as much, if not more, than the overused fact that “our quality ingredients are important.”
- In their own words. Customer stories don’t have to be complicated. A simple recorded phone interview with an inspiring restaurant owner about his signature “turkey dinner wrap” could be a social media hit.
- Make it a tag. You probably organize your recipe ideas by dayparts. But also tag ideas by regional cuisines. Chefs are often looking for South Carolina barbecue or Cuban flavors more so than perusing a long list of lunch ideas.