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2007 Preview: Before you buy

How innovative should you get next year?

"Innovation is the key to entrepreneurship," says Victor Gielesse, associate VP for industry solutions at the Culinary Institute of America. As a liaison between manufacturers and operators, he collaborates on culinary product development that meets the needs of both. But how innovative should restaurateurs get? Before you sign on a new product or line, Gielesse advises "stay true to your concept."

He follows up with these suggestions:

Determine what defines your market. A restaurant in Dallas has different needs than one in Oklahoma City or Chicago.

Understand your customers' expectations. How cutting edge do they want to be and how much are they willing to pay for it?

Evaluate the ease of implementation. How will a new product fit into your distribution channels and menu? Will it require staff training or add convenience?

Consider the cost. How will the product impact both food and labor costs?

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