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Revitalize Your Menu


February 29, 2008
By Cam Wood

FEATURES

menuRevitalize Your Menu
As spring dawns, and brings a sense of rebirth and newness, it’s also
the time when most of us take a long hard look at what we have
accumulated over the winter months.

Spring Cleaning Will Help Build Brand Loyalty

menuAs spring dawns, and brings a sense of rebirth and newness, it’s also the time when most of us take a long hard look at what we have accumulated over the winter months.

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Sure, the back of the storage shelves may not have seen much daylight in recent months; but spring-cleaning isn’t just for checking the expiry dates. It may be the perfect time to clean up that old menu, dust off some of the old favourites and blossom with a few new additions.

Change is a difficult prospect for most, but the timing is right, as people’s palates move away from the hearty comfort foods of winter, to lighter and fresher tastes at this time of year.

“Evaluate what sells and what doesn’t,” says Bill Marvin, a regular speaker on the pizza trade show circuit in North America. “Sort them by popularity, then sort them by margin. So, now for every item you have, you know two things about them.”

Understanding these two components of the menu items will allow operators to focus more clearly on which items they want to sell, and why some just need to disappear.

For Marvin, a.k.a. the Restaurant Doctor, the best approach to menu revitalization is a slow and steady process, much like how spring arrives. It gives customers the opportunity to take in the changes, what new offerings emerge and bloom.

“Slow and steady change is evolution; rapid change is revolution … and it’s violent and bloody.” By the end of the process, Marvin says, operators should have a clear vision of their menu “winners, teasers, sleepers and losers.”

One thing is clear, he adds. Operators get too hung up on food costs and percentages. “You can’t pay the bills on percentages. Gross margin is what we work on. We are more reluctant to adjust our prices than our market is willing to accept an increase.”

A restaurant’s menu is its blueprint for profitability; the foundation on which the entire brand is built. For renowned food critic and author, Pat Bruno, operators’ reluctance to move on price is easily replaced by brand loyalty.

“You need to capture the imagination of the public,” Bruno says. Something that won’t be done with low price pizza. “With pizza, you have a product that people can relate to … everybody understands it. You just have to sell the goodness of it.”

Brand loyalty is not something that is inherent in the demographic that buys on price. Agreed, that demographic is prevalent in every consumer market. But those customers will never be sold on brand loyalty if they are willing to go elsewhere to save a dollar on their order.

“We’re talking about loyalty that you can’t measure in dollars and cents,” says Bruno. “We’re talking about a customer’s commitment to come back. That is the ultimate goal in marketing, and we do that by making the best product we can.”

Both experts note that an underlying element is promotion. When looking specifically at the menu, and the items the operator has now identified as clear winners, promoting them to increase sales is a necessary strategy.

If “specials” are a key part of business, Marvin recommends removing them from the menu altogether. That way, on the day, week or month that item is a featured special, it adds an element of exclusivity – this is something that the customer can only have today.

The restaurateur is a big fan of VIP programs, describing them as “coupons in drag.” The excitement created by “membership” and the sense of being able to be part of something that others can’t be, enhances the value. Marvin’s perspective is that people like to belong to programs that they perceive to be “exclusive.”

He notes that this strategy has been successful in retail operations such as Price Club/Costco. In Canada, loyalty programs, according to one study, have a very strong foothold in consumers’ purchasing decisions.
According to Colloquy, a loyalty consulting firm, 86 per cent of Canadian consumers identify themselves as participants in loyalty marketing programs, 51 per cent higher than their U.S. counterparts. The findings were presented last fall in a research paper entitled The Canadian Difference: A Comparison of Loyalty Marketing Perceptions Among Specific Canadian Consumer Segments.

The study was a demographic analysis that featured research on the loyalty participation and perceptions of Canadians in key market segments.

“Coalition loyalty marketing in Canada is the difference maker,” said Kelly Hlavinka, co-author of the study. “Canada’s loyalty landscape is heavily influenced by the presence of the Air Miles Rewards program, a national loyalty coalition that accounts for a 70 per cent penetration level among the nation’s households. No such national coalition exists in the United States.”

And despite how wired in the generation Y demographic is, young adults do not engage with loyalty programs through electronic channels more than direct channels, according to the study. Young adults ranked lowest of the five segments (26 per cent) when asked if they were engaged in receiving special offers via e-mail. They are, however, the most likely Canadians to recommend a business due to its loyalty program (48.4 per cent).

Core women (any female respondent age 25-59 with annual income between $50,000 and $125,000) led the way, with 40 per cent claiming extreme involvement with loyalty programs via e-mail.

On a whole, Canadian consumers belong to an average of 2.5 retail programs, 2.0 financial programs and 1.5 travel programs. For Bruno, the loyalty program concept strengthens the branding strategy by helping to further clarify the restaurant in the mind of the consumer, building on the business’s identity and unique selling proposition.    

PRICE PRESENTATION

“Let me ask you this,” Marvin says, pausing before asking his question. “We don’t charge extra for what goes on a submarine sandwich, so why do we do it for pizza?” Rhetorical, but nonetheless intriguing. Marvin says he is irked by operations that “nickel and dime” the customer. It takes the pizza industry back down to the level of corner gas stations, fighting for the consumer over a tenth of a cent.

Customer loyalty and branding success will never be realized because the pizza now becomes a commodity, versus the dining experience it could be. “Pizza menus look like spread sheets.”

Marvin strongly recommends dollar signs be removed on the menu. He cites examples of some of North America’s finest establishments and shares that the price is almost always found at the end of the item description, not set to the far right in column format.

“Now the decision becomes one based on the food, not the cost.”

To everything, there is a season … and a story. Marvin’s last bit of menu design focuses on something not found in gross margins.

Storytelling is one of the effective ways to connect with the customer. It draws them into a broader understanding of the restaurant, and to a certain degree, the exclusivity of belonging to its history. “There is no ‘word of mouth’ if there is nothing to talk about. Do things with a story behind them, and give your customers something to talk about.”

And it strengthens the brand in the consumer’s mind. Cheap pizza is not often made with a century-old family dough recipe, or Mama’s secret sauce. Cheap pizza, like gasoline, is founded on price point only … and where did you last buy your gas?

“People don’t come to you to be students of your menu,” says Marvin. “You must give them a memorable meal – that is why they are there.”•