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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

See Your Menu Through the Eyes of Your Customer

Pretend you are dining at a restaurant for the very first time.  You have just opened the menu handed to you by your host.  The front cover has a picture of a boat, the name of the restaurant in large font, and the family name of the owners.  A short subtitle contains the words seafood, fine and dining printed in italics.  The back cover explains the restaurant's history, the address, phone number and the same information for a sister restaurant.

Opening the menu, you unfold an 11" x 17" sheet of paper.  Each side offers 8.5" x 11" of space.  The half inch margin all around offers 150 square inches of space.  The restaurant owners use this space to create a guide to help you through the order process.  They want you to enjoy your experience.

Where do you begin to look for information?  The center feature box on the right side?  Maybe you direct your eyes to the upper left hand corner.  You may scan the entire document quickly to make sure the term fine dining promised on the front cover doesn't mean too expensive.  Once the pricing scheme is mastered, you'll try to solve the main puzzle.  What should I order?

The menu may have photos, feature boxes bordered in bold colors and other eye catching magnets to grab your attention.  One of these feature boxes may offer specialties of the house or family favorites.  Perhaps, the menu reflects a Mediterranean theme.  It is common to see the various meal courses in separate boxes including appetizers, entrees, salads, soups and side dishes.

In a short time, your waiter will arrive and ask if you have any questions.  In addition, they may describe the specials of the day.  They should ask if it's your first time dining in the restaurant.  Hopefully, they will make you feel at home while describing the popular dishes and cooking techniques employed in the kitchen.

Normally, you will be given a few moments to make your preliminary short list.  The waiter will return and ask if there are any other questions or possibly a simple "Are you ready to order?"

Depending on your selections, there will be different options and you will be asked to make more decisions.  Options will include desired dressings, toppings, side dishes (complimentary and additional charges), cooking method and temperature.

Remember, the owners want to help you truly enjoy your dining experience.  They have a major investment in the marketing tools used to get you through the front door.  They designed the menu to insure their guests order and receive great meals, return again often and tell others of their excellent dining experiences.

If the owners accomplish their objective, you have an excellent chance of enjoying your meal including the atmosphere, your food and the companionship of your fellow diners.

Some restaurants do a great job accommodating parties wishing to share their selections.  They offer their guests additional plates and silverware.  Restaurants specializing in shellfish dishes often offer bibs, special equipment and instructions for separating the food from the shells.

Since the number one financial objective of the restaurant is to make a profit, your entire experience will be designed to help you spend money.  Generally, starters (including appetizers, salads and soups) are more profitable on a % basis than the entrees.  Guests who are made to feel welcome may linger for a dessert course.

The dessert course is more profitable than the starters.  Commonly, you will be handed a separate dessert menu and the waiter may have strong opinions.  Everyone wants you to leave with a great taste on your tongue.

Some restaurants use the valuable space in the menu to highlight additional charges for splitting entrees, minimum dollar limits, and charges for items generally offered for no additional charge.  You may see a $10 charge for splitting an entree.   Bleu cheese dressing may cost you an extra $1.  Guests seeking a meal during the dinner period may be asked to spend at least $25 each.

Seafood market prices can change significantly from week to week.  Some restaurants use the phrase "market pricing" on dishes which feature raw ingredients with the most volatile prices.  Lobsters and whole fish may be sold by weight.  Other shellfish may be sold by the dozen.  A three pound whole fish sold for $25 per pound will show up as a $75 charge on the check.

Your guest check may seem too high for the meal you were served.  Take a look at the line items with the highest prices.  I have been charged $100 for a mixed shellfish appetizer in a restaurant featuring entrees between $25 and $40.  The waiter never mentioned the price when describing the presentation and optional sauces. 

Ask for a full accounting if anything appears to be amiss prior to handing over your credit card or cash.

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