- Culinary consultant for restaurants and food companies, assessing menus and recipes and creating original recipes to fit client specifications.
- Accomplished food writer who develops stories for publications such as Every Day with Rachel Ray and Westways.
- As senior food editor at Bon Appetit, managed recipe testing, worked with writers and chefs, developed the popular Fast Easy Fresh column.
- Author of three cookbooks and editor of three others.
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Restaurant Strategies: Refreshing Your Recipes and Menus for Big Impact
- Restaurants are serving food that just isn't very good.
- Often an investor, owner, manager, chef or marketing director knows something’s not quite right but they can’t put their finger on it. That "something" is the quality of the food itself, which is probably the most common issue for many restaurateurs. Sometimes it's a matter of being in a rut. They’ve been doing something the same way for so long. They say, “This dish doesn’t look quite right; doesn’t taste quite right. I think it could be better. How do we make it better?”
- Restaurateurs and chefs are often too close to the problem to analyze and develop solutions.
Many restaurateurs are very well-informed about industry trends and they want to stay current, but need an independent perspective to show the way. They want to update because they’re either reading about industry trends or seeing it on menus of their competitors.This applies to small single location operations as well as small to medium chains. Even restaurants known for their very traditional, longtime signature dishes want to fine-tune their recipes and operations. Traditional is good, but outdated presentation, preparation and service can diminish sales. Competition is often the major incentive.
My clients tell me, “Other restaurants are stepping up their game and we want to be sure we don’t become obsolete. We want to maintain our current clientele but we want to add new consumers as well.” They want their menu to appeal to a broad range of consumers, especially younger consumers who are more interested in food that is local, sustainable, and viewed as more healthful. But they don't know which direction to take and how to get to there.
- Food costs trump trends. . . most of the time.
Many times food cost is a challenge. Some operators want to ride the wave of organic, local and sustainable, but the real stickler is the cost. If it costs too much to embrace and implement, it has to be reassessed. Finding ways to bridge the gap between cost and trends is unique for every operation. If a change isn't going to be profitable, operators don’t want to invest in it. Sometimes that requires a balancing act between higher food costs for a few trendy dishes while maintaining traditional margins on most of the menu.Sometimes they’re willing to go a little bit higher on a few dishes just to attract or to give the impression that they're aware of what's hot on menus. Maybe it's offering a dish with goat cheese and fig chutney even though fig chutney is a lot more expensive than just a little shmear of pesto. Sometimes the "wow factor" is worth the cost. They’re willing to take chances on certain dishes, but bottom line, cost is very important.
The bottom line is that most operators want to limit food costs as much as possible and still produce fabulous-tasting dishes. For example, no matter how trendy the romanesco, most operators would rather use cauliflower because the exotic light green cauliflower look-alike is twice as expensive. By offering it as a specialty side dish, they can charge a bit more and embrace the specialty produce trend while still being profitable.
- Often chefs don't have time to research trends and develop new dishes because they're too busy with day-to-day operations.
Smaller operations may not have a corporate chef or someone who’s in charge of menu development because their job is day-to-day operations to produce a high volume of excellent food of consistent quality. Menu and recipe research and development often isn't part of their portfolio.
In addition to the challenges of research and development, implementation of changes is time-consuming and requires a lot of testing and refining of ingredients and process. New dishes and menus have to be operationally successful, in that staff can produce them with existing equipment and without disrupting operations. Operators often want to revamp using the ingredients they already stock and with which staff is familiar. They like to have multiple recipes using same or similar ingredients. They prefer not to have a recipe, even a signature recipe, that requires an expensive product that will only be used in that one dish. Finding cross-utilization for products is important to manage cost and maximize kitchen efficiency.
- Staff may feel threatened when outside consultants are brought in.
When a consultant is called in, staff may feel their jobs are on the line. I've worked with a lot of chefs, so I understand the concern. But it doesn't need to be the case. It is important that the business owner, the chefs and staff know that a consultant's role is to collaborate, to work WITH the staff because the staff knows the operation of their business better than their consultant.
The consultant's job is to work with the staff to analyze flavors and textures. And their job is to figure out which of the consultant's recipes will work within the constraints of their operation while meeting the desires and expectations of their customers.