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We build to suit

Consumers are fickle. On one hand, they crave the familiar. Just ask any operator who's tried to pull off a major menu overhaul without starting World War III. On the other hand, consumers crave variety. They want new and unique menu items. Keeping up with this insatiable demand usually sends your food cost up and your food quality down.

Guest customizable menu items improve guest satisfaction
Here's a simple idea that might solve both problems. Offer a hot and cold menu item that diners can customize and eliminate the pressure to offer three or four daily specials that may or may not sell. I've seen variations of this idea across the country, but when made a part of a regular menu — with a little marketing twist — it's win/win.

Set up your pizza and salad stations to accommodate customized orders. Then add the marketing twist. Design an order form just like those handy breakfast order forms in hotels that you hang on the door before you go to bed. Place them on the tables for the customer to fill out.

For salads offer iceberg, mixed greens and spinach as a base. Then list all the options: grilled shrimp, smoked chicken strips, ham, chopped egg, croutons, onions, real bacon bits, tomatoes, avocado, pine nuts, grated cheeses, beets, etc. I think you get the idea.

The same goes for pizza. Deep dish or thin crust, tomato or white sauce, and then let the choices flow... and flow... and flow! Crumbled blue cheese and sautéed sweet onions is one of my favorites. Always promote some standard classics and your own signature items.

Have fun with your design and make it a reflection of your Brand. I like them professionally printed, glued like note pads, and placed on the table. You can also hang them on a clip board or place them in your menu. Provide a pen or pencil with your business name and logo or give them a crayon. For inspiration, we've provided a sample of a "Build Your Own Salad" sample menu.

Take the guess work and hassle out of daily specials and develop a reputation for letting customers have it their way!


Bill Main is a nationally-recognized author, consultant and speaker. His company, Bill Main & Associates, specializes in strategic growth plans for foodservice entrepreneurs. For information on how you can grow your top line revenues through innovative marketing, menu, leadership and training systems, visit www.billmain.com.

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