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4 Tips to Creating a Customer-centric Menu For Today’s Modern Diner

It takes more than just good food to deliver engaging, memorable experiences to modern restaurant-goers today. Here are 4 ways to do so with just your menu.

By Dave Eagle

A hospitality brand today is no longer only about serving high-quality food; that’s a basic expectation now, and it’s only one of many components that contributes to your guests’ experiences.

In fact, as mobile apps continue to shape how modern dining starts and ends – from ordering, tracking, to delivery and reviews – it’s becoming more crucial for hospitality brands to deliver consistently engaging, memorable experiences to restaurant-goers today.

All restaurants strive to create a menu that people will enjoy. But there’s the paradox of having loyal customers at your restaurant: they dine with you more often than your other customers, largely because they love the food you serve, but after a time, the familiarity they have with your options can give way to boredom, and menu fatigue ensues.

There’s much to be said about keeping things simple, but if it can happen to a global phenomenon like Chipotle, which took a massive hit to its sales in 2016 partly due to becoming complacent with their operations and menu, it could happen to anyone.

For small hospitality businesses that don’t have a worldwide following (as yet), being customer-centric with one’s menu isn’t just about keeping things interesting for one’s customers, it’s also about creating experiences that help you stand out from the massive competition and survive the slow periods.

These four tips can help you get on your way to creating a menu that keeps today’s discerning guests coming back to your establishment.

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1 . Create different experiences with different menus

To be customer-centric is to create an experience with your patrons in mind.

If you offer takeaway, serve special sittings on weekends (like brunch) or accept online orders through a service like Deliveroo or UberEATS, creating a slightly different version of your menu for every way you serve customers helps keep things interesting.

Specials that can only be ordered online can also help keep up your revenue numbers on days you typically experience slow foot-traffic (e.g. during bad weather).

READ NOW: 10 Reasons to get on Board the UberEATS or Deliveroo Thing Everyone’s Doing

As long as you’re experimenting with new food additions, a pop-up could be the perfect way to test out items you’re trying to put together for a revamped menu. Pop-ups have proven to be a hit with an increasing number of diners looking for a little something extra in their food-discovery experiences today. In fact, a survey of over 2,000 attendees to a pop-up dining experience by EventBrite found:

  • 75 per cent of people think it’s worthwhile paying more money for a unique dining experience.
  • 84 per cent of people will choose to attend a pop-up dining event if it promises a unique menu or theme.
  • Pop-up dining experiences (especially with a chef interaction) provide an intimate atmosphere to get to know the makers and ingredients behind a meal, something that experiential diners love.

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2 . Empower your customers by giving them a say

It’s become increasingly easy to solicit customer feedback ideas online and through social media, and doing so is actually a smart way to connect with your existing followers and build more loyal supporters.

The point is to engage your customers in a two-way conversation about what you should include on your menu and empower your guests by letting them have their say.  

Ben & Jerry’s does a good job of this by letting customers submit flavour suggestions through their website. Customers are also encouraged to speak to managers in their local Ben & Jerry’s to place orders for special flavours if they are unavailable, and, if a one has been discontinued, customers can head to their Flavour Graveyard and request for it to be ‘resurrected’.

Here are a few other (very common) ways to get your customers to lend you their brains, while building excitement and engagement with your brand:

  • Dedicate an area of your website for feedback. You can ask customers to give you their two cents on recently added items to your menu (which encourages them to buy from you at least once to try it out), whether existing dishes can be improved, or if a discontinued item should make a comeback.
  • Allow recipes to be submitted in exchange for naming rights on your menu.
  • Hold a contest where customers can submit ideas for food or beverages that can be made with featured seasonal items. This could keep you full of new offerings year-round and again, help you survive the lull periods.

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3 . Shout about your commitment to sustainability

A recent report by Deloitte, Through guests’ eyes: Serving up a great restaurant customer experience, surveyed over 2000 diners in an effort to understand the modern restaurant-goer’s evolving expectations.

The results it was found, stressed the importance of using sustainable food products and practices, a pattern that has been observed for a while now. Concerns around sustainability remains top-of-mind for restaurant-goers today, and many consider it in the places they choose to dine.

In fact, further research by OpenTable found:

  • 81 per cent of Australians want to eat ethically-sourced food.
  • more than 50 per cent of Australians favour restaurants which use local, seasonal produce.
  • 76 per cent of Australians aged 18–24 said sustainably-sourced foods are important to their dining experience.

If you are driving sustainability in your establishment, your menu is a great place to shout about  your efforts. Doing so will help your hospitality brand resonate with the increasing number of eco-conscious diners today.

If you’re not already practicing sustainability in your hospitality business, consider what small changes you can make in your operations – even the littlest of efforts can go a long way in reducing some cost as well as your carbon footprint.

Melbourne-based Reground is a service that provides cafés, roasteries and offices (anywhere with a coffee knock-box really) with a bin specially for used coffee grounds. Once the bins are filled, Reground takes them to community and home gardeners who use the waste by putting it back in the soil.

READ NOW: How Digitally-Driven P&R Coffee Roasters Became Trailblazers in Hospitality Technology and Sustainable Sourcing

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4 . Use data to personalise and customise your experiences

It makes sense that in planning a menu that’s customer-focussed, you need to know what your diners prefer today. And if you’ve thought that terms like “Big Data” and “Analytics” are more applicable to the tech industry than hospitality, think again.

Restaurants and related businesses in Australia’s hospitality space have been using data for a while now to tailor their customer service strategies down to the individual, thereby taking the dining experience to new heights.

Geoff Bramann, former owner of Sydney restaurant The Duck Republic – once a vibrant beachside eatery in Cronulla, New South Wales – used to to pull up his customers profiles and check details like their order history, overall spend, lengths of stay and any notes about their behaviour and personal preferences. This tactic he found, helped him make his guests feel and look important.

Meanwhile, online restaurant reservations system Dimmi’s has integrated a LinkedIn feature that supplies employment information to its restaurant partners, further empowering them with information to provide better service.

Stevan Premutico, chief executive of Dimmi, said restaurants had relied on memory and manual data entry to build a picture of their customers for too long. The hospitality industry as such, is trailing behind other sectors such as airlines and hotels that have mastered guest recognition and tailored customer service by using data.

It’s in this regard that the value in having a digital point of sale can’t be overstated.

The same way you would use a cloud-based point of sale to see what’s sold well and what hasn’t, you can also apply to software that include a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) element and run reports on your regulars and other groups of guests. Let their tastes be a starting point as you tinker with new items to keep them coming back.

Your menu is just one of the touchpoints you can use to drive a positive connection with your customers as they dine at your establishment and beyond, just as a beautiful programme sets the tone for a grand stage performance.

Investing the time and effort to ensure yours speaks to today’s modern diner is just part and parcel of maintaining your competitive edge to a new breed of customers.