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Top chain kitchen bosses reveal how they deal with menu innovation pressure

Las Iguanas kitchen

Leading F&B heads at the UK’s top high street chains agree that timing is everything when it comes to new menu developments – and that you need to test and innovate without worrying about getting things wrong.

Menu changes and roll-outs are a massive part of daily life for multi-site chains, with extensive resources invested in evolving new dishes and offers that will entice new customers and encourage repeat business.

Jane Treasure, food and beverage director at Pizza Express, says that menu changes “absolutely start” with the customer and how trends may or may not be relevant to diners.

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“I think it is important with some of the up-and-coming trends to get your timing right because if you are too early customers might not be ready for it, if you’re too late you look like you are a copycat. And you have to make sure that you are true to your customer and your brand at the same time,” she explained during a recent panel discussion on menu innovation at the Casual Dining Show.

Mrs Treasure said the first question she always asks when embarking on any sort of innovation project is, what problem as I solving for?

“Are you solving because you want to go grab-and-go, are you solving because the taste frankly isn’t good enough? Are you solving because you need to get more customers in? Once you know what you are solving for the innovation is a lot more fun,” she said.

“Also, ask the big question — don’t ask the simple, easy question that you know the answer for. My one at the moment is, ‘what’s the next margherita pizza?’ It is a big question — it is the biggest selling pizza on the planet in all of our competitors! You can create some great products when you ask a big enough question.”

Keep it simple sometimes and take the gloves off – don’t train yourself into an idea that is very one-sided

Fellow chain Wagamama has the luxury of its ‘Noodle Lab’ in Soho, where it can trial new dishes at the point of contact with customer, allowing it to gain great feedback on what is working and what is not working.

Executive chef Steve Mangleshot said: “Trying to work out the right time to present something or do something is tough — if we had a crystal ball it would be fantastic but we don’t so sometimes you have just got to try and push it out there. The great thing about the Noodle Lab is that we are trying out food six months before we actually want to launch it to the rest of the estate, so it gives us carte blanche to come up with the weird and wonderful ideas, the stupid ideas, the great ideas, the bad ideas, all the way from crockery and cutlery right through to food.”

Asked to share his number one tip when changing or innovating a menu, he said: “Keep it simple sometimes and take the gloves off – don’t train yourself into an idea that is very one-sided, really open yourself up to all the possibilities. We get it wrong sometimes and you need to be told it’s not right, but I would say that no idea is a bad idea.”

Over at Las Iguanas, where the company specialises in Latin American cuisine, the chain uses its unique position in the market by attempting to drive menu trends through authenticity and education.

Head of food development, Glenn Evans, agrees that everything comes back to the customer, but says it has a very clear approach to menu development due to the focus of its food.

“We are not pushed into or directed to in terms of what we bring to the menu – we have got a genre where we can be first to market or try and educate the consumer and I think that is really important. We know some things are not always going to sell as well but what we need to do is go back to that educational part and plant the seed on certain things and certain ingredients that consumers are not necessarily au fait with.”

A more detailed report of the discussion that emerged from the Menu Innovation panel at the Casual Dining Show will be published online tomorrow.

Tags : Casual Dining ShowLas Iguanasmenu innovationPizza ExpressWagamama
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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