Business and Operations
Marketing insights: September-October 2014
Romancing the food
By Michelle Brisebois
Those of us who love pizza have been waiting for years for the masses to revel in its potential as an artisan menu item.
Those of us who love pizza have been waiting for years for the masses to revel in its potential as an artisan menu item. According to Forbes magazine, its moment has finally arrived. In a recent article on business trends, Forbes announced that “The era of cheap pizza with low-quality ingredients is ending, with the rise of artisan, gourmet pizza chains such as Blaze Fast-Fired Pizza, MOD Pizza, Patxi’s, and many more.” Forbes cites the investment of big money and larger chains’ participation as evidence upscale pizza has shifted from a niche play to a full-on trend. If you are eager to benefit from the customer enthusiasm and higher price point associated with upscale pizza, then get ready to up your game. As a luxury item, its perceived value is very much tied to the story behind the product. Generally speaking, the more exciting and romantic the story, the better the return.
Food and thinking about food occupies a great portion of our day. Research conducted at Cornell University indicated that the average person is inundated by decisions about food. In fact, their research suggests that we make more than 200 decisions about food every day. Many of these decisions are made unconsciously, including choosing a menu item. Think about the last time your food was described to you before you ate it – chances are you were salivating before your first bite. There are a number of ways to tell the stories of your menu but resist the urge to use the menu itself as your first line of communication. Lots of wordy descriptions will overwhelm diners visually and it’s not as effective as having that story delivered to you personally. Your most important asset in your quest to romance the menu is your team, so choose your people wisely.
Hire great storytellers. When you’re interviewing potential team members, include a question that reveals this skill, such as, “tell me about a meal you made or ate recently that you feel was special and why.” The response may showcase great tableside strategies. You want to hire people who love food and love sharing their passion. Don’t compromise on this. Make sure the chef is reviewing the menu items with the team. Tensions between front and back of house are common in restaurants so a chance for the chef to connect with servers around his or her creations can foster better understanding and communication. Let the team taste and ask questions at pre-shift. Create a corkboard in the kitchen where labels from the cheeses and other ingredients used can be posted for quick reference. Buy a copy of The Food Lover’s Companion, a food dictionary that includes definitions, historical lore and pronunciations. Keep it handy for the team to refer to. During pre-shift meetings, have the team share success stories and encourage each server to make the customize their descriptions by inserting their own personality into the delivery of the story.
There are generally two stages where the server describes the food. The first occurs during the customer decision phase. People often have questions about how the food is prepared or what tastes good when they review the menu. The server should be eager to recommend one of their favourites because they’ve actually eaten everything on the menu themselves. Insist that your servers not hand over the menus and then run off with drink orders, leaving guests to their own devices. By taking a quick verbal tour of the menu and then getting beverages, you’ve helped guide the decision process and enhanced the average cheque. At this stage, a quick overview of the dish should entice the customer to choose. When the plate is dropped, the server should take three to five seconds to describe each entree. A verbal tour of each dish could include the way the crust was brushed with special oil, the delicate smoked flavour of the mozzarella and the way the meats were cured. This pause to appreciate the artistry before the customer’s first bite enhances the sense of anticipation, which in turn amplifies the enjoyment of the meal.
If your operation focuses on or includes delivery, your packaging can tell the story for you. Write five or six sentences to describe the food as vividly as one of your team members would and then have this printed inside or on top of the box lid. It could also appear on a sticker or card. For maximum impact, the story should be revealed just as the customer prepares to eat it. A study by the University of Illinois reports that products carrying descriptive labels sold 27 per cent more than those that don’t. Described products caused diners to form more positive attitudes toward the restaurant, and the restaurant was seen to be keeping up to date on the latest food trends.
A sense of anticipation heightens the enjoyment of any activity. As Harriet Van Horne said: “Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
Michelle Brisebois specializes in brand strategies. Michelle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.