Sanjeev Sanghera, co-founder and managing director of Döner Shack, explains why menu innovation should be at the forefront to help you thrive in this competitive market
Restaurants frequently need to modify their menus and foods to keep up with culinary trends, but signature items can serve as the mainstay for loyal customers and evolve to reflect new fads, healthier eating habits and ultimately increase revenue.
The pandemic caused a seismic shift in dining habits, resulting in many restaurant menus being revamped and restaurant operators introducing a plethora of new menu categories to stay afloat and boost cash flow. While it is important to attract diners to your restaurant by extending your menu with new products, offering a signature item and being innovative with your menu is even more essential, particularly during challenging times.
A great signature item has the potential to bring a restaurant substantial growth. With diners now experimenting with different cuisines from across the world, it is vital that restaurants have a signature item to put them on the map and provide a lasting identity that does not fade away even if new competition arises.
Become the talk of the town
Creating a great signature item – a recipe that identifies an individual chef or restaurant – for your brand is a guaranteed way to propel your business forward in the restaurant industry. It can become the one reliable item that can keep you in business and profitable.
A signature item is what keeps your customers coming back for more and what they go home and tell their family, friends and colleagues about. However, when developing a signature item, restaurant owners often fail to consider who they aim to serve and their restaurant’s identity, leading to confusing and poor signature items. It is crucial that you produce something that people associate with your brand and do not get caught in the marketing trap of offering something that is not relevant to your menu or aligns with your brand values. For example, at Döner Shack, our signature item is premium-quality meats using freshly baked traditional pidas and homemade signature sauces. Place yourself in the customer’s shoes and think about what you want them to experience when they have this item.
Menu innovation will help your restaurant stand the “taste” of time
Many people are eating differently as a result of the pandemic and their food habits have changed, influencing them to eat, cook, shop and think about food in another way. Brands should take this opportunity to capitalise on these changes by innovating their menu to cater to new demand and to bring the excitement back into the dining experience.
Menu innovation should always align with a brand’s overall identity. While many restaurants used the lockdowns as a time to take stock and review their brands, they overlooked the chance to look at their menus and reflect on how the consumer might have changed their food habits. Instead, they implemented new technologies to enable multiple ways for consumers to get their food (click & collect, delivery, etc.) and fine-tuned operations to create greater efficiencies and speed of service.
If you want your restaurant business to stay relevant, attract new customers and have a point of difference from competitors, then innovating your menu is key. I understand the word innovation gets thrown around a lot these days and has become a buzzword in several industries and services, but for restaurants looking to win back customers after a lengthy layoff, reacting to the market and being innovative in your approach is vital.
As a fast-casual franchise brand, we have always placed real importance on menu innovation. We understand that now more than ever that people want healthier food choices and don’t want to compromise when it comes to quality and taste, which is why we’ve taken our time to perfect each of these elements at our Döner Shack restaurants. We source the best quality products and only serve ethically sourced ingredients to ensure there is something for every taste and type of diet on our menu, including plant-based options to a growing conscious consumer.
Slim down your menu
Since the easing of lockdown restrictions, some restaurant operators have succumbed to pleasing everyone rather than sticking to their core products or developing signature items to maximise customer footfall. However, despite what you may think, extending your menu for the sake of it without proper research is not the best way to boost sales and can actually leave you out of pocket.
With consumers continuing to raise the bar for what is considered “fast” and “convenient”, restaurants and food delivery companies are reacting with enhanced business operating models to create customised, technology-enabled experiences. This means restaurant brands should actually be focusing on narrower and more specialised menus to improve quality standards, speed and service.
When a restaurant gets caught in the trap of constantly adding new seasonal products to a menu, they often become their own worst enemy because they can end up spending more on marketing and promoting their new menu. Of course, this is not to say you should never change your menu. Another downfall to constantly changing your menu is that you need to retrain your kitchen staff for each new item on the menu, costing you time and money. Not only this, but if you are changing your signature item every month, you will have to pay over the odds to suppliers.
Remember, a signature item becomes a reason why customers resonate with your restaurant brand and tend to seek it out. It is a marketing tool and an opportunity to make people interested in your restaurant so make sure it is both memorable and on-brand. For your restaurant franchise to thrive in the oversaturated restaurant space, staying innovative with your menu and developing a great signature item will help your restaurant claim the top spot.
Sanjeev Sanghera is the co-founder and managing director of Döner Haus and Döner Shack. With over 25 years of experience, Sanjeev is a leading restaurant entrepreneur with a business that is growing internationally, including in North America, Europe and the Middle East.