August 2012 Newsletter

Aug 28, 2012


The completion of Synergy’s project to redesign the kitchen and bar of a T.G.I. Friday’s in Nashville has the whole team celebrating-and thinking about how important it is for any operation to keep things fresh for long-term success.

The switch to an open kitchen and a bar designed for socializing will help launch the 47-year-old chain into its next era, with new cooking platforms-pizza and combi ovens, a plancha grill, wood-enhanced broiler and a high-speed panini machine-that can support a variety of contemporary new menu items.

Speaking of menus, our senior operations associate Mark Ladisky reminds everyone this month about how important it is to keep the offerings moving forward. As he points out in his article, even operations that are only a year old can start boring their customers if they’re not in constant menu-development mode.

We also take a look at some new, visually oriented social media platforms you should consider embracing, and -last but not least-examine the all-important industry trend toward menu customization.
To your success,

To your success,

Dean and Danny

Sign up for our Email Newsletter

Menu Development—The Elephant in the Room

By Mark Ladisky, Senior Operations Associate

One theme that we see consistently while working with clients is the desire to save, save, save on costs, and to float those savings to the bottom line. While we always support those interests, there can be an elephant in the room. When operators spend all their time worrying about saving money by installing motion-sensor lighting or buying cheaper hand soap, they may lose sight of more impactful and longer-term financial results. Yes, these changes will bring a few dollars to the bottom line, but if your menu isn’t changing fast enough to keep your customers interested—if even your fans are getting bored—then you’ve got yourself an elephant that needs to be addressed.


“There’s a way to do it better—find it.” -Thomas Edison”


In this constantly growing and increasingly competitive dining landscape, we are often so preoccupied with trying to reduce operating expenses that we can lose focus on growing our sales to ease the financial stress. This problem is found in concepts of all shapes and sizes, and can happen as early as one year into operation depending on how frequently your guests use you for their dining needs.

The solution to this issue is easy to explain but the execution can be a bit trickier without the proper research. There are restaurants and brands in the market that have a mechanism in place for constant menu innovation and ongoing new product development. As industry consultants, we are often part of that effort by bringing new ideas to teams that may operate in a vacuum where ideas aren’t allowed to develop.

Innovative companies have one ear listening to consumer feedback and the other ear listening to trend reports and other industry metrics, all the time. This constant supply of new ideas is the easiest way to bring new attention to your brand, while keeping your current user base at the same or better frequency of use. Your market may be competitive on pricing, your market may be competitive on speed of service, but while the demands on those factors are dynamic and changing, the public’s desire for new items is always growing.

“Burger King and its franchisees have introduced a vastly changed menu with a record 10 new items in 2012, and according to Steve Wiborg, executive vice president and president of North American operations: “It’s the chain’s largest investment ($750 million) in a one-year time frame… This is the biggest change in scope in the history of the brand.” USA TODAY

In today’s landscape, menu innovation isn’t just limited to new ingredients. Starbucks has launched a cold-pressed juice bar concept called Evolution Fresh and Popeyes rolled out a co-branded Zatarain’s butterfly shrimp item, while Whataburger introduced a low-calorie menu this summer which includes new menu categories as well as new items under 550 calories.

If you want to think outside of the four walls for innovation, then look at Chipotle’s new food truck to see how they define innovation. Burger King and McDonald’s have invested major resources in recent years to enter meal periods that they had only lightly treaded on in the past. They now sell plenty of smoothies, frappes, coffees and other snacks during what was once a slow time of day for their offerings.

Concepts like Dunkin’ Donuts are continuing to innovate their menus so much that the donuts are no longer the first thing people think of when visiting the brand—by introducing a line of breakfast sandwiches and all-day snack items like tuna salad on a croissant. When did DD become a place to go for anything after breakfast, you may ask? When they had to.

For help with menu innovation when you need it most, contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants.

New Tools for Your Social Media Arsenal

Talk about game changers: Social media and interactive websites mean consumers are using the internet—increasingly through their smartphones and other mobile devices—to do everything from choosing a restaurant and making reservations to ordering and paying for their meals ahead of time.

Facebook and Twitter are pretty much household names at this point, with their number of worldwide users tracking toward 1 billion and 500 million, respectively, in 2012, according to the latest data. Fast food chains, in particular, have been particularly adept at marketing themselves via these well-established social media venues, especially when it comes to promotions.

The real news however, is that the visual side of social media is growing by leaps and bounds—photos and videos are the engagement tool of 2012, through established sites like Facebook as well as newcomers like Pinterest and Instagram. Consider adding any or all of the following to your arsenal.


This new online “pinboard” has seemingly come out of nowhere, and may actually be growing in influence, to the detriment of other platforms.

Designed to share passions and ideas in a fun, rapid-fire, highly visual way, Pinterest offers a number of avenues for marketing businesses, including restaurants.

Pinterest can be used both as an internal research tool by management (for instance, to “collect” images of interiors in anticipation of a planned redesign and share them with other stakeholders), and to engage customers on various subjects such as menu categories, recipes, favorite foods and more. Chicago’s Chopping Block, for instance, promotes its cooking classes, retail offerings and other activities through a variety of different Pinterest boards, while A&W Restaurants’ Pinterest account prominently features its Facebook and Twitter links, as well as establishing an emotional connection with historical shots and other memorabilia.

As with any form of social media, robust use of Pinterest can also enhance your SEO status, making it easier for internet users to find you.


Launched in late 2010—and purchased by Facebook for a cool billion dollars in April 2012)—Instagram is a free photo-sharing program that allows users to take a photo with their mobile phone, apply a digital filter to it, and then share it on a variety of social networking services, including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. The photo can also be used to check in on Foursquare.

In addition to turning mediocre cell-phone-quality pix into higher-quality images, Instagram converts photos to a square shape (similar to Kodak Instamatic and Polaroid images), instead of the 4:3 aspect ratio typically used by mobile device cameras.
Instagram makes uploading and sharing photos easier and more attractive on other social media sites, but it’s also becoming more popular as an engagement tool in its own right, particularly when synched with other sites. Many chefs and restaurants use Instagram to make their food look more appetizing or “artsy,” or to promote a special event space—anywhere a picture is worth 1,000 words. And because it’s based on visual images (their or yours), connecting with customers via Instagram is one of the most emotionally engaging things you can do.


This fast-growing new food-specific site allows prospective customers to find you by your food, not just your restaurant listing. Foodspotting users snap pictures of food and menu items they’re enjoying, and then post them to their account with a brief description of what and where they’ve “spotted” it. Other users can follow, comment, and share their findings.

For restaurants, Foodspotting acts like a database for menu items that people in the area might want. Anyone with a craving for, say, chicken and waffles in Chicago can search the Explore section of the site and find places near them where they can indulge. And Foodspotting represents a great way for operators to see what competitors in their marketplace are doing with presentation and other areas that aren’t immediately apparent from looking at a website or menu.

Foodspotting is also a great vehicle for “spot-to-win” contests, where players compete to spot the most meals and dishes—a kind of internet-age scavenger hunt, if you will.

One of the most intriguing features of Foodspotting is the special guides, which might cover anything from best starter salads to the gustatory wanderings of such heavy users as Anthony Bourdain.

The Custom Connection


The average American may not be able to afford bespoke suits and custom-made furniture, but one area where they can have it their way is food.

In fact, menu customization has emerged as one of the top overarching trends of the year, according to research firm Mintel, along with local food and healthful menu items.

The NPD Group, moreover, posits that consumer desire for customized experiences is behind the recent decrease in the sale of combo meals in QSR restaurants.

Here are a few examples of restaurants that are doing the customization thing right:

• At Old Point Tavern in Indianapolis, customers can choose an item called Stuffed Stuff that consists of their choice of a tomato, cantaloupe or pineapple stuffed with a choice of tuna or chicken salad—standard fare to be sure, but the mix-and-match format makes it special

• The new three-unit Stacked full-service restaurant in Southern California touts “food well-built” by the customer, who chooses from a list of different ingredients from which to design a completely unique salad, burger, pizza, mac-and-cheese and more. The selection of sauce options alone numbers more than a dozen, from Dijon Horseradish Dill to Creamy Barbecue?

• How does it work at Roti Mediterranean Grill? Pick your base (sandwich, salad or plate), “meat” (chicken kebab or roti, steak, falafel, roasted veggies), and toppings and sauces (including everything from olives and hummus to Red Pepper Aioli), or choose one of three popular combinations proposed by this now-15-unit fast casual chainlet

• At chef Waldy Malouf’s new High Heat Pizza Burgers & Tap in New York City, you can order from the standard menu or build your own burger or thin-crust pie with various cheeses, vegetables and proteins (including such unusual options as roasted lemon and handmade pepperoni, respectively), and enjoy custom Tossed Fries seasoned with the likes of cheddar-and-bacon mayo, 13 spices, Parmesan & Tomato Oil)

4 Food, also located in New York, has created an entire interactive world where customers can develop their own salads, rice bowls, and burgers (which feature donut-shaped patties into which fans can stuff a “scoop” of their chosen ingredient—such as carrot slaw or mofongo). Patrons then promote their “builds” through social media in order to appear on 4 Food’s Build board Charts and qualify for 4food$ off future purchases

• The premise of the menu at The Salty Pig, in Boston, is a build-your-own board of cured meats and charcuterie, artisanal cheeses, and items like Marconi almonds and Fig Jam to round out the experience. Each component is priced a la carte, and customers can and do order as few or as many items as they want for sharing or a light meal to accompany drinks. At lunch, there’s also a Pick Your Pig concept that provides a well-rounded tasting of Osaka, Tamworth, or assorted salumi specialties

Granted, each of these restaurants feature suggested menu items for those customers who don’t want to experiment, but the basic premise is all about the DIY menu.

For help with making your menu more customizable, contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants.

Tip of the Month

If you’re considering getting involved with Pinterest or Instagram, be sure to read these articles from Nation’s Restaurant News, wherein users share ideas and tips for maximizing intriguing new social media platforms.