Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Build-Your-Own

I have recently noticed a growing trend in build-your-meal concepts, and I have to say, I like it! I mean, who wouldn’t? You made it right?

Customizing your own meals is no longer limited to just pizzas and subs; now you can enjoy customized meals of practically any cuisine. Lesser known, but longer standing build-your-owns like Mongolian BBQ (build-your-own stir fry/noodle bowl) and shabu-shabu (build-your-own Japanese stew) have gained interest, while other innovative concepts have come up with innovative spinoffs of new cuisines.

Yogurt and ice cream chains like Cold Stone Creamery, Red Mango, and Tutti Melon have emerged as some of the fastest growing franchises in the industry; and build-your-own salad bars like Mixt Greens and Croutons are a dieter’s dream. And there’s more; The Counter makes custom burgers with practically any topping you can imagine, Chickpea specializes in build your own pitas and hummus plates, and you can’t forget the customizable giant burrito by Chipotle. Surely, you can see the countless possibilities of the build-your-own.

What diners really love is the feeling of empowerment that they get from designing their own meals. They get to choose exactly what they want, how they want it, and how much of it they want. Almost like each meal comes with its own This meal designed by _____ label.

Not only have the custom combos branched out of their typical cuisines, they’ve also opened doors for innovations in marketing and ordering. Many restaurants have taken advantage of the internet and have built fun and interactive web pages that let users design their own meals. Check out this page that my company built for Mixt Greens: Diners can go online before they order (and by order I mean either online or by going to the store), design their own salads, and view the nutritional values for their custom orders. The Specialty’s Sandwich Editor also allows users to view customized nutrition details and order online with clever graphics.

You know I can’t let you go without a little health talk so let me quickly point out that the build-your-own also empowers diners to make healthy decisions about their meals on their own. The diet-conscious consumer now has the option to order lite, while the classic yes-is-more American diner can pile it on (don’t forget to up sell the extras.

Be on the lookout, the build-your-owns are out there, just waiting to get built.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What are my Options?

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend a brilliant presentation at the Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo in San Diego about creative solutions for developing healthy menus. I have to be honest with you and admit that one of my close colleagues was one of the co-presenters, and I may have had a hand in some of the content, but all the same BRILLIANT. I thought that I would share a few points from the presentation with you.

Let’s start with some facts:

• A recent Technomic survey conducted in New York City where menu labeling bills have already been enacted found that 82% of those surveyed said that calorie disclosure is affecting what they order.
• The same survey reported that 60% said that calorie information is affecting where they visit.
• The University of Missouri found that customers were willing to pay up to $2 more per menu item if they were deemed healthy items.
• The NRA’s 2009 industry forecast sated that 3 in 4 adults are watching what they eat.

What am I getting at here? Simply that there is a market and proven demand for healthier options on the menu. Here are some ideas that I came up with for healthier options to offer your diners:

1.) The “lite” menu – you don’t need to change your entire menu to be health themed; just maybe offer a few healthy items with stated nutrition information for those who care to look for and choose “lighter options”.
2.) The Split – Encourage dieting diners to share items like appetizers and desserts. You can list calories for split portions so long as you also include the number of servings per portion.
3.) Leftovers – Have your servers offer to package half of the served portion to go before serving it to the guest. That way calorie conscious customers cut their calories in half and have a second meal for later (maybe they bring it to work for lunch the next day and tell all their coworkers how great it is).
4.) Offer Suggestions – Have healthy suggestions for special orders available. i.e. half the amount of salad dressing, no cheese, half side items and extra greens, ..etc. You can train your wait staff to make these suggestions or offer them in additional literature or on the website.

Offering your guests options empowers them to dine within their comfort criteria without asking restaurants to reinvent the wheel. Accommodation of any special requests leaves diners with a sense of security from their hosts and an appreciation for their service offerings.

What are some other service offerings that empower your guests to make them feel taken care of?