Staying on top of the latest ingredient, food, and drink crazes can sometimes feel like a full-time job. As a restaurant owner, how can you be sure you’re jumping on trends that will be the next big thing, and not ones doomed to quickly fizzle out?
Here are a few tips on how to research and successfully incorporate new culinary trends into your restaurant’s menu.
Follow the Pulse of the Industry
Keeping up with the latest food and beverage fads can be a snap if you know where to look. Social media and industry blogs are a great resource to observe what’s trending in real time. Follow key social media players nationwide, as well as restaurants in your area, to see what the competition is serving up. With 77 percent of the U.S. population active on social media, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are great mediums to gauge customer feedback on specific flavors, dishes, and trends — and to see which trends diners have grown tired of.
Set up hashtag searches on these platforms that relate to your brand, cuisine type, and location to receive notifications when your customers or competitors use these keywords. Do you notice a spike of vegan/vegetarian hashtags in your area leading up to the New Year, or an abundant mention of “best patio” references and questions during the summertime months? Take note and be ready to adapt and capitalize on what these customers are saying they value in a restaurant experience. You can also set up Google Alerts for defined keywords like, “restaurant trends” and “trending ingredients in restaurants,” so that you’re immediately pinged when relevant content is posted.
Test Drive Your Ideas
After you decide on the food/drink trends you think will be a hit with your customers, give them a trial run before officially adding them to your menu. Fashioning a pop-up version of your restaurant at a local community festival is an ideal way to analyze locals’ reactions to your new menu ideas without making a full commitment. Be sure to engage and interact with your patrons to get an accurate picture of what they like or dislike about your newest offerings.
If a pop-up isn’t a viable option, test your new products out at your restaurant as a limited-time special. Make sure your servers are highlighting these new offerings to guests, and letting them know that they are something you are testing out. The chance to be among the first to try something can be a big driver in a customer’s decision to sample the items you’re auditioning for your menu.
Ask, Listen, and Take Notes
Always keep the lines of communication open with your diners whether it’s face-to-face or via social media. Guests’ online behavior and commentary will often tell you exactly what new trends they expect to see at a restaurant, and what motivates them to frequent a specific venue.
Many restaurant owners have also found success crowdsourcing new menu item ideas on social media. This can make customers feel connected to a restaurant, and that their feedback is heard and valued.
Keep Them Guessing and Coming Back for More
You should be updating your tried-and-true menu with seasonal additions a few times a year and adding completely new staple items at least every 18 months. A recent report shows that 31 percent of restaurants update their menu on a monthly basis, while 24 percent change it up seasonally.
This revamp provides a fresh feel for your loyal fan base, while serving as an effective way to attract new patrons too.
Get Hungry for the Facts
Americans are spending 48 percent of their total food budget dining out at restaurants. This means it’s crucial for you to determine what your big money-making food and drink items are going to be from season to season, or even month to month, so you can optimize them to generate even more revenue.
Take a look at your POS system reports and break out which products are bringing in the most cash during specific times of the year. Use this data to outline a picture of what your guests like and dislike and what time of year they prefer to order specific menu items.
Let’s say you find that your three-bean chili sales are through the roof November to January, but practically nonexistent during the spring and summer months. Try adding another hearty soup or stew product to your menu for the winter, but then 86 them for the warmer months, replacing soups and stews with fresh, lighter fare.
By staying ahead of the trends, you will be ready to offer what your customers want when they want it (or even before they know they want it), leading to repeat visits and positive word-of-mouth. Who knows, your new menu items could even become the next big hit among foodies on Instagram.
Do you want more tips on how to update your menu? Download our free e-book “Menu Magic: How You Can Increase Restaurant Sales” today!