May 2014 Newsletter

May 20, 2014

There’s no doubt that 2014 has emerged as the Year of the Healthy Menu. But what does that mean exactly? Is it low-calorie food? Organic ingredients? Allergen-free? Vegan and vegetarian?

The subject of healthy menus has always presented challenges, beginning with the fact that consumers are apt to say one thing and do entirely another, saying they want to see more healthy options and then ordering fries with their sandwich and a dessert to end the meal.

That doesn’t make it any less important to give your guests the choice, however, as clients like Tender Greens and LYFE Kitchen have proven. These and other companies like them specialize in good food that their guests can feel good about ordering, but they haven’t forgotten one crucial piece of information: People are also looking for flavor and pleasure when they dine out.

To your success, Dean Small and Danny Bendas

More Ways to Menu Chicken

By Joan Lang

chicken menu

For years chicken has been treated as an also-ran by many menu-makers, who might provide an obligatory grilled chicken breast or chicken sandwich. Now this versatile protein is getting its due, thanks in part to soaring beef and pork prices and consumer concerns about health.

Several chains are successfully treating chicken to the elevated “better burger” model, coming to market with chicken-centric fast casual menus. And it’s not just about the wings.

The 24-unit PDQ fulfills its People Dedicated to Quality promise with a menu touting fresh chicken tenders in sandwiches, salads and meals, with homemade sauces and dressings plus hand-spun shakes and homemade cookies. ChocoChicken, the latest creation of Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman, is opening its second location celebrating the unusual marriage of chicken and chocolate, wherein the chicken in steeped in a chocolate-based marinade, dredged in chocolate laced flour, and coated with a 17-spice rub before being deep-fried.

Meanwhile, Yum Brands’ new premium Super Chix concept eschews any connection to its blue-collar sibling KFC with a pared-down menu of hand-breaded chicken sandwiches, tenders, fries and frozen custard. (KFC has its own KFC eleven experiment in Louisville, with a menu that includes chicken-based flatbreads, salads, rice bowls and sandwiches, in addition to the boneless fried chicken meals.)

Domino’s has been using chicken to help nudge itself outside of the pizza box, with the new Specialty Chicken platform, which features boneless chicken with various toppings and sauces, as well as a mix-and-match program in which the poultry can be combined with pizza, Stuffed Cheesy Bread, oven-baked sandwiches and more. Wendy’s has also been very proactive about adding signature chicken items to its menu, first with the Pretzel Pub Chicken Sandwich and now the new Tuscan Chicken on Ciabatta.

Indeed, taking a familiar product like chicken and merchandising it with a unique bread and condiments has helped the bird become the most-featured protein in sandwiches and wraps , according to Food Genius.

And there are plenty of more surprising and creative ways to put chicken on the menu, not only because of its versatility and low food costs, but also because consumers are more familiar with chicken and that makes them more likely to try it in a different preparation.

Chicken Menu Sampler

There’s no reason a chicken selection has to be boring, particularly now that there is wider availability of high-quality farm-raised chicken to showcase

Chicken Two Ways for Two: Confit with puff pastry, foie gras and cauliflower roasted with black truffle, celeriac and Brussels sprouts – The Lobby, Chicago

Pot Roast Chicken with Mustard (from chef Michael Ruhl)

Sunday Night Fried Chicken (family style): Black Hog Farm chicken, mashed potatoes, creamed peas, Black Sheep collard greens and biscuits – The Black Sheep, Jacksonville, FL

Chicken Noodle Soup: Ginger, herbs, sweet soy, rice noodles – Shepherd’s Pie, Rockland, ME

Amish Roast Chicken: Moroccan couscous, almonds, preserved lemon-mango chutney, raita – The Majestic, Alexandria, VA

Chicken Waffle Tenders (from Kraft)

Grilled Chicken & Portobello Risotto: Roasted garlic, basil & Parm veggies, balsamic redux – Blu, Norman, OK
Crispy Chicken Pizza Sandwich: Grilled chicken breast, ranch dressing, sautéed spinach, diced Roma tomatoes, onion, bacon, mozzarella, provolone _ Fletchers, Anchorage

Chicken Confit: Crisped-skin confit chicken leg served over farro sautéed w/ apple & fennel; topped w/ paprika gravy – The Gerald, Seattle

Thai Coconut Salad: Mixed greens, roasted chicken, grated coconut, cucumber, roasted sweet potato, peanut mango dressing – ModMarket (Colorado-based)

Contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants if you’d like a menu consultation.


Tableside Manner: Dinner as Theater

By Joan Lang


Remember the gueridon? The opulent sideboard or tableside trolley where meat could be carved and menu items finished in view of the customer now seems like a relic, but it was all in fashion in certain kinds of European-style restaurants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A few celebrated restaurants still prepare a tableside Caesar salad or café brulot, but by-and-large this style of service has gone pfffttt in the wake of casualization—and the need to maximize seating.

But maybe it’s time for some forms of elevated service to make a comeback—service, after all, is a means for differentiation and providing a more memorable customer experience. Even something as simple as pressing down the plunger of a coffee French press when delivering it to the table achieves a level of customer engagement that will set your service apart.

Some savvy operators are even bringing back the tableside trolley, in the form of repurposed dim sum carts, as at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco and Ma Peche in New York City. Giada De Laurentiis, when she opens her new Giada restaurant in Las Vegas later this month, plans Italian-style brunch items and desserts from a roaming fleet of pink and gold carts.

It’s a brilliant way to build sales, of course, attracting a chorus of “I want that!”s even louder than the lavishly garnished cocktail or oversized dessert parading by to a neighboring table. But it also conveys personalized service in a way that few other gimmicks can. We’re not even talking about made-to-order liquid nitrogen ice cream or chefs coming out into the dining room to deliver the food, either—just good old-fashioned service with a tableside flourish.

• In honor of the beginning of the final season of Mad Men, Travelle in Chicago’s Langham hotel added tableside cocktail cart service, in the form of sleek roaming carts dispensing the specialty Madhattan cocktail, made with the customer’s choice of whiskey, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and smoked simple syrup

Mi Dia from Scratch, in Grapevine, TX, is known for its must-order tableside guacamole, crafted in a traditional molcajete and customized with an array of interesting mix-ins, including sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts and bacon

• The concept at Penne, in Philadelphia, includes a pasta bar where guests can watch chef Eileen Watkin make such specialties as gnocchi, ravioli and linguini with seafood in a white wine-tomato sauce

• Desnuda, in New York City, offers an over-the-top Bong-Smoked Oysters in which the bivalves are smoked a la minute with lapsang souchong tea and Sichuan peppercorns

• Chefs and restaurateurs like Lafayette’s Andrew Carmellini are bringing back the dramatic art of tableside flambéing with menu items ranging from cocktails to entrees and desserts

But even if you can’t afford the cart—or the extra fire insurance—there are many simple, effective ways to provide a tableside service experience.

• Serve soup from a tureen or pitcher, ladling or pouring the liquid over solid ingredients such as garnishes in front of the customer (use a folded napkin for protection against splashes)

• Finish a shrimp cocktail at table with an optional shot of tequila or premium vodka

• Spoon dressing for salad or sauce for a meat dish from a sauceboat or caddy, along with garnishes such as cheese or croutons; the same concept works for a dessert sauce or fruit garnish

• The growing popularity of large-format dishes like roasts or family-style meals suggests a renewed opportunity for tableside carving or serving. Even presenting the item in its entirety at the table and then removing it to the kitchen for cutting and plating gets extra credit

• For “up” cocktails like Martinis and Manhattans, pour part of the mixture from a petite carafe into a chilled glass, then set the rest of the drink in a bowl of ice to keep it cold

• Create a signature dish en papillote (cooked in parchment or foil), which can be sliced open at the table to release the delicious aroma and reveal the food inside

• Mix up a dipping sauce of olive oil, cheese, hot pepper, chopped garlic and herbs at the table before presenting the bread service

• Consider adding a classic of tableside preparation or presentation, such as steak tartare or a cheese course; in the case of the steak, the meat can be ground and plated in the kitchen, but condiments such as anchovies and onions can be added to the customer’s specifications at the table

• Serve family-style side dishes in the French manner, spooning vegetables or potatoes out for each diner from a large bowl or platter

• Caramelize crème brulee or a meringue dessert with a handheld torch

• Finish affogato (gelato “drowned” with a shot of espresso) at the table, pouring the hot espresso over a heatproof container of gelato

For help upgrading your service, contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants.

Negative Yelp Reviews: To Respond or Not Respond

By Emily Callaghan, Communications Manager

Any business operator can tell you that Yelp reviews can help or hurt, and since no one can please 100% of customers 100% of the time, restaurant owners can expect a less-than-glowing review at some point. In fact, negative reviews can even be seen as a positive, showing legitimacy (no concept is perfect) and honesty (all-positive reviews could suggest paid reviews). They can also provide management with important feedback.

How can restaurant owners handle a negative Yelp review? Here are the basic options:

Ignore the review: If a reviewer absolutely hated your miso-braised short ribs but most people rave about them, it might not make sense to respond apologetically. Most importantly, don’t take an isolated complaint to heart.

Note: If a reviewer absolutely “hated” your miso-braised short ribs but your restaurant is vegan, it might make sense to respond and remind them of your offerings, suggesting that they post the review on the intended restaurant’s Yelp page instead—wrapping up, of course, with a cheerful “Have a great day!”

Respond to the review: If a reviewer had an unfortunate experience—their server was rude and messed up their order, their soup was cold even after they sent it back to the kitchen—take the reviewer’s feedback seriously and take any necessary measures to ensure that other guests don’t have the same experience. Here’s how to respond:

1. Stay Cool. Before getting defensive or upset, take a breather, waiting a few days to respond if necessary. Just as Yelp reminds businesses, your reviewers are (we must assume) paying customers. They’re also vocal, and can be quick to escalate a situation if they feel it’s been handled inappropriately.

2. Public or Private? Experts are divided on responding publicly or privately, but we like the idea of a professional, well-crafted, short-and-sweet, public response, as it demonstrates to other reviewers that you’ve taken the time and effort to make right a situation gone wrong. If the reviewer seems like a loose cannon but it makes sense to respond, consider going private.

3. Mitigate. With a cool head, thank the reviewer for their feedback, apologize for their less-than-perfect experience and assure them that you’ve taken their feedback seriously.

4. Extend an invite. Ask the reviewer to stop by the restaurant and ask for you (the owner or GM), so that you can smooth over any standing issues, offer them a discount on another meal or take care of them in another way you see fit. If they leave happy, you can bet their follow-up modified review will be a positive one.

Tip of the Month

Leave it to the Hartman Group to take a good hard look at the Health and Wellness consumer. If you’d like to download the whitepaper associated with company’s 2013 “A Culture of Wellness” report detailing the four different levels of consumer engagement with wellness (Core, Inner Mid-Level, Outer Mid-Level and Periphery), click here.