If your answer to the above question is no, you may be missing out on sales.
We’ve all experienced firsthand that cravings can be a huge driver for decision-making — anyone who has smelled a French fry and desperately wanted a taste knows it’s a fact.
But according to experts speaking at the recent National Restaurant Association Show — including Maeve Webster, senior director for DataSsential, and Cathy Holley, publisher and editor-in chief of Flavor & the Menu magazine — the craveability of your menu may be affecting your diners’ decisions even more than you think.
According to Webster, data collected by DataSsential indicates that more than three-quarters of consumers most often crave an item first, and then select a restaurant based on that craving, rather than the other way around.
“If you’re not designing items that are driving cravings, then you’re missing out on an opportunity to drive traffic to your restaurant,” she said.
So how do you capitalize on craveability to benefit your bottom line? Check out these three easy tips for immediately making your menu items more desirable:
1. Use more umami flavors.
“There is the very basic level of craveability, the biology of it,” said Webster. “And there’s been plenty of discussion about that: [the] fat, sugar, salt.”
As consumers become more health-conscious, however, these ingredients and flavors are developing a negative reputation. Diners are increasingly seeing fat, sugar, and salt as unhealthful at best, and, at worst, borderline addictive.
“Those very basic three elements have now developed a reputation as some kind of ploy to manipulate the consumer to eat that food,” said Webster. “You don’t want to create that image of manipulating the consumer.”
Umami, however — roughly translated as a “pleasant, savory taste” — has an equally strong biological tie, but is perceived in a much different way by consumers.
“It has a positive connotation, largely because umami flavors are associated with healthier ingredients like mushrooms [and] tomatoes,” said Webster. “You can use this kind of a biological driver and actually gain positive perception because umami is considered more advanced, sophisticated, [and] modern.”
Meats such as matured beef, pork, and chicken; shellfish; soy; Parmesan cheese; and various vegetables, including carrots, potatoes, and the aforementioned mushrooms and tomatoes, all have strong umami flavors.
Not to mention that many of these ingredients are probably featured in your menu already. Capitalize on these pleasant, savory ingredients — and increase each item’s craveability — by upping their ratios in each dish, making them a more prominent part of the flavor profile.
You can also train your staff to more frequently mention or discuss umami with your customers, and include more mentions of this taste sensation into your menu, ensuring even those who have only visited you on the Internet will know what you offer.
Although it may seem unrelated, if your guests are expecting strong umami flavors, they will hone in on them more. And the more they experience each craveable aspect of the meal, the more they’ll desire it later.
2. Capitalize on aroma.
Just as thinking about umami can make those savory flavors seem more prominent to your guests, other seemingly unrelated experiences can drastically affect how craveable your food is. One example is the power of aroma.
“Aroma taps into your emotional cues,” said Holley. “[It can] conjure up flavors of home-cooked meals, in some way, and [they’re] usually positive attributions,” said Holley.
This strong reaction to aroma is the reason why many bakeries bake their goodies in the front of house, or why some popular tourist destinations are said to pipe certain scents into the air. Appealing to your guests’ sense of smell not only gets them to associate your restaurant with one very positive aroma, but also preps them for the delicious meal they’re about to enjoy.
To take full advantage, try moving some of your processes out into the front of house to ensure your customers are getting the full impact of each scrumptious scent.
Ask yourself, “what are the most aromatically enticing items you have on your menu, and how can you leverage that more?” said Webster. “Can you put [those items] front of house, [or] can you do some kind of prep at the table to get other tables smelling whatever that item is?”
3. Share pictures of your food — and make pictures of it shareable.
It’s no secret that consumers are more frequently sharing pictures of their food — but doing your own photo sharing can actually help boost your bottom line.
According to Webster, data collected by DataSsential indicates customers are significantly more likely to order a food item — regardless of what it is — if there is a picture of that item available.
“We’re really eating with our eyes, and over the last 10 years, appearance has shot up in importance when it comes to establishing a craveable food item,” said Holley.
With delicious increasingly photogenic food, you’re also creating a greater value proposition without having to touch your prices.
“The intent of posters of your restaurant’s food isn’t to show their buddies on Instagram or Facebook, ‘Look at the value I’m getting.’ It’s really to create envy in someone,” said Holley. “Think about when you’re posting a picture of something. It’s not necessarily like, ‘Wow, look at all this I got for $4.’ It’s, ‘Doesn’t this look good?’ You’re not going to post it if it doesn’t.
“You’re spiking craveability for that food item among your consumers,” she added. “And if you think about the ten-fold influence that that has, social media really has given craveability currency today.”
So how do you make your food more craveable and shareable? The answer can be as simple as integrating more fresh produce and putting your careful preparation on display.
“Think of some of the most interesting and impactful items that you’ve ordered, regardless of what that was. Did it have produce in it somewhere?,” said Webster. “[That’s because] produce, frankly, is gorgeous. It really is beautiful to look at. Even though people don’t necessarily crave a vegetable in particular, vegetables help drive craving because they are just so gorgeous to look at in any setting.”
In addition, paying special attention to the visual impact of your food doesn’t just communicate how good the food will taste, but also how much time and energy you spent in preparing it for your guest.
“Grilled looks great. You get that on the plate and it’s got marks on it, you know it went through some kind of preparation,” said Webster. “It creates textural appeal, flavor appeal. [And that] preparation can have as much impact on the craveability of the item as anything that went into that item itself.”