Pitfalls in Food Development

Pitfalls in Food Development for Menu Updates
Photo Courtesy of 8oz Burger Bar

Adding new food features to your menu, be it a small independent or a large casual dining leader is exciting. It provides growth in your business and supports development of your team members, especially those with creative minds.  Trends shift quickly in today’s hospitality environment, therefore forging ahead of your competitors with new food innovation is imperative. Menu ideation with food is a way of life and not an occasional opportunity nor to simply accommodate.  There are however some key leverage points and potential pitfalls when developing and adding new food features that you should be aware of. 

Let’s examine!

A Balanced Approach:  When determining how to price specific features, keep a balanced approach that will benefit your brand, your guests and your employees.  Overcharging for an item may benefit your revenue and margins in the short term, however guest counts will erode due to price gouging.   Charging too little may drive traffic temporarily but eventually costs will increase, negatively impacting your brand. Charging too little or too much will always negatively impact the employee experience. Therefore, finding that balance or ‘sweet spot’ requires a full court press from management. 

Strategy and Calendar:  A well planned strategy with milestones will keep you from panicking or adding new food items to your menu to simply ‘keep up’.  Management must have a strategy in place that calls out when to add new features and how this impacts menu design and efficiency.  Adding too many new items at one time can tilt execution and margins.  Not adding the correct number of new and exciting menu features may cause you to be viewed as stale in the eyes of your customers.  

New SKU’s:  Adding new products to your pantry or product lists can be a tricky proposition.  SKU’s (stock keeping units) provide an opportunity to identify and track products for inventory purposes.  The addition of new products in new recipes is exciting and can lead to best in class menu features that will drive traffic with intent to return. The end result when adding new features with exciting new products can make or break a new menu rollout. Strong planning and follow up with new food products is a major factor in a well-planned food cost development program. 

Test / Test / Test:  Best practices tell us that any new food or beverage feature with new products should receive scrutiny through a rigorous testing model.  Simply because management likes a new dish will not bear fruit alone.  Test with consumers long enough to gain operational input on key execution points and also determine how many items were sold per day, per test restaurant.  This will provide the required confidence to move forward with rolling out new features.    

Menu Mix: When adding new features to your menu, your mix of products will of course shift, ideally for the good to support new menu innovation.   A menu mix shift or change will require you to monitor how new items will impact current features which could be reduced dramatically in sales per day. Planning is critical so as not to have dead inventory of products as waste plays a substantial role with increased food cost.  The more new items you feature on a major menu implementation (MI) can impact food cost dramatically.  Adding the correct number of new features while deleting or retiring current or low performing features is in itself an art.  Do not take the addition and deletion strategy too lightly as spikes in food cost can derail and set you back.  

Measure It: What does success look like?  Do you have a specific goal in mind when adding new features and deleting current features?   Measure and track closely so you can determine if you won the game.  This learning can lead to many future successes and build confidence in your menu planning. The data generally does not lie, yet reflects what your customers like and will order, preferably over and over.

New food features are exciting and play a huge role in your overall food and menu strategy. Your honored guests deserve as much. Taking the necessary steps to eliminate basic food cost pitfalls will provide a template for success.  


George Barton:  gBartonInnovations.com
[email protected]