Innovation: what does it mean for restaurateurs?
The dictionary says: “Innovation is a new idea, more effective device or process. …The term innovation can be defined as something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society.”
Do you think your innovation process matches this description?
I’ve spent over 35 years as an executive chef, a global culinary trendologist, and a culinary executive. My clients have included some of the world’s leading food companies, innovative food-preneurs and creative restaurateurs, and I have assisted them in launching on-trend, on-time, great-tasting food products and menu items.
When it comes to menu innovation, focus on culinary trends, business trends, and feedback from your customers.
Culinary trends, business trends and customer feedback
My clients often ask where I look for culinary trends, or how I know the difference between a trend and a fad.
My biggest advice is to look outside your organization, visit food shows, and pay attention to industry trade magazines. If you know what’s happening outside of your kitchen and dining room, you’ll already be in a more creative space. Being aware of what others are doing will also help you differentiate yourself from the competition.
Understanding trends is only the first step. You also need to plan a menu that speaks to your brand.
I encourage my clients to do an in-depth competitive analysis every nine to twelve months. Think about the restaurants you love to eat at: what do they do to keep you coming back?
And finally, think about your own customers. Who is your target customer, and does your menu speak to them? How do you track customer feedback? When your guests give you insights about what they like or don’t like, be sure to capture it and use this information wisely.
As you think about your next menu, use the information you’ve gathered, think about your brand and what it stands for, and align this with your goals for your business.
Top five keys to innovation
1. Be externally focused
- Be aware of what’s happening outside of your own kitchen
- Can you partner with anyone who thinks differently and will help you develop different ideas?
2. Culinary creativity and strategic marketing
- Blend together culinary awareness and creativity
- Add a strategic marketing plan
- Toss together with an in-depth trend watch report
3. Fill your product development pipeline
- Engage your team in a creative thinking session
- Include industry leaders from both inside and outside the food world
- Translate culinary trends to match your customer base, your product mix, and your vision
4. Competitive analysis
- Know what customers think about your brand and your menu items
- Work with an expert to guide you through a competitive analysis
5. Taste, taste, taste
- Taste above all: great-tasting menu items and food products can lead to increased sales
Christine Couvelier is a Global Culinary Trendologist, Executive Chef and Culinary Executive. Christine is the past Executive Chef of President’s Choice, the Director of Culinary & Beverage/Executive Chef at Cara Operations, and the Chair of The Chef School of George Brown College. She worked on global innovation for Unilever and was the first Director of Culinary Strategy at Maple Leaf Foods. Currently Christine continues to educate, teach, and inspire her customers through her consulting company Culinary Concierge, where she provides culinary solutions to assist clients in launching on-trend, on-time great tasting food products and menu items. For more information, contact Christine by email at taste@ culinaryconcierge.ca or visit www.culinaryconcierge.ca.