Culinary Trends

Don't let your menu go stale

May 21, 2024
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Don't let your menu go stale

While freshening up your menu can be costly and time consuming, there are many benefits. We show you why it’s important to make changes to your menu and where to look for inspiration. In the most recent Choosi Modern Food Trends Report, 57% of Australians said they were eating more nutritious food compared with five years ago, while two thirds of those surveyed claimed to purchase foods that were part of new trends.

Responding to these movements in consumer behaviour can underpin the way you recast your menu. Of course, you should also examine your own data. Scanning your point-of-sale records for localised trends is a smart idea, as it can be hard to keep track of what’s popular and what’s not during the hurly-burly of daily business. If a menu item has gone cold it might be time to alter the dish or remove it altogether.

Seasonal menus allow you to take advantage of produce at its best and provide diners with a reason to keep coming back. A seasonal menu offers you the chance to create a set of dishes that matches the weather, with warm, hearty meals more suited to the cold months and lighter foods increasing in popularity during the warm months. Not only do customers enjoy the variety offered by seasonal menus, your kitchen likely appreciates the chance to express its creativity.

It’s a challenge that Executive Chef at noted Melbourne venues Albion Rooftop and The Precinct Hotel, Pat Ortuso, enjoys setting his chefs. Ortuso and his team recently decided to transition their menu three times a year according to distinct changes in the weather. “But between those periods,” explains Ortuso, “we do little edits for something that’s not working or when my chefs come across something better that works for us. We might update 1-2 dishes each season to keep things fresh for our customers.”

His venues also use specials as a creative outlet for his kitchens. “That’s my chefs’ domain in each of our venues,” says Ortuso. “The main menu takes a lot of time, planning and thought, whereas the specials allow our chefs to contribute as little or as much as they like. If they have an idea they want to explore, they’ll do a cook up and it if gets the seal of approval, it’s on the board next week.” It can also pay to keep a close eye on innovations from your favourite foodservice vendors. Like you, foodservice suppliers rely on setting their businesses apart with unique items in order to generate interest and new customers.

Simplot Australia is launching two intriguing new offerings that, according to Executive Chef & Culinary Manager at Simplot, David White, have the potential to create fresh news for eateries and interest amongst customers.

The company’s Edgell Plant Based Not product is a plant-based alternative to meat that has an obvious attraction for diners who either wish or need to avoid meat. Suitable for vegans and vegetarians, Edgell Plant Based comes as plant based mince and chicken-style strips as well as other products in the range, and can be used in a range of culinary applications such as pizza, stir fry, wraps and pasta as an alternative protein. Says White: “We support innovation. These new offerings are unique in and of themselves, but they also offer creative chefs the chance to craft inventive dishes and keep their menus on-trend.” When considering what to change on your menu and the extent of change, it’s important to remember that not all diners are looking for the same menu experience.

Some will return with the hope they can choose a dish they’ve previously enjoyed. For them, predictability is the key. But there will be other customers for whom an unchanged menu is a disappointment.

Catering for both is a delicate balancing act.

Two popular strategies are to keep a core range of popular menu items intact year-round, and to make subtle changes to popular dishes in a bid to keep them fresh and interesting. These strategies should ensure you never ostracise either customer type. Menu changes also provide a marketing opportunity. News can be as good a reason as any to get in touch with your customers. Make sure you take advantage of additions to your menu by using this news to promote your business. An excellent vehicle for advertising new dishes is Instagram, especially if you have a talent for taking well composed, beautifully lit photographs. According to Choosi, nearly 40% of people believe that social media has influenced their eating behaviours.

For executive chef Ortuso, the key to keeping a menu fresh is actively tuning in to trends from a wide range of sources and responding accordingly.

“I get really excited about small menu edits... I want to know what’s new, what’s coming into the country, talking to people with fresh ideas. If there’s anything remotely new, people in my network know I want to be at the forefront of new ideas. “I make a big effort to look at foodservice websites and read all of the hospitality magazines. I also subscribe to lots of food-based e-mail and even 7-8 consumer magazines, just to hopefully see the things that will keep us ahead of the game.”