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Benihana to overhaul menu, brand

MIAMI Benihana will undertake a menu overhaul to upgrade ingredients, offer more authentically Japanese flavors and add variety, including innovative sake-based cocktails, all without the need for entrée price increases, the chain’s parent company Benihana Inc. said Thursday.

The move, which will be combined with service and branding initiatives, is part of the Benihana Teppanyaki Renewal Program, which was outlined by Richard Stockinger, chief executive, at the company’s annual stockholders meeting in Miami. It is designed to improve guest perceptions of the dining experience and build traffic at the company’s 65 teppanyaki restaurants and 22 franchised locations. Benihana Inc. also operates nine Haru and 25 RA Sushi Bar restaurants.

The renewal program would address “improving our guest perceptions as they relate to image, quality, consistency and lack of Japan,” Stockinger said in a statement. “These combined efforts, which are in various stages of implementation, are focused on increasing guest frequency, creating greater mindshare, and ultimately bolstering restaurant sales at the company’s flagship brand.”

The changes follow a tough March-ended fiscal year for Benihana that included a 7.7-percent drop in same-store sales at the teppanyaki chain. Most recently, for the quarter ended July 16, Benihana’s same-store sales fell 13.1 percent.

The menu changes, scheduled for Oct. 1, will include upgrades in the proteins used, including the meat, chicken, lobster tails and shrimp, as well as cutting produce at each location to ensure maximum freshness.

Assisting in the effort is consulting chef Hiroyki Sakai, a protégé of the concept’s original advisor Master Chef Shinji Fujisaki, who has been named Executive Culinary Advisor.

Seven new menu items will be added, including a 12 oz. Imperial Steak; an Emperor’s salad with the option of shrimp, steak or chicken; Spicy Tofu Steak; Colossal Mango Shrimp; a steamed vegetable dish called Garden Delight; a Spicy Seafood Soup, and a specialty dessert called Yummi-Taki.

Haagen-Dazs will be brought back as the ice cream option, as well as a premium Bindi sorbet product.

Beverages will include new sake cocktails and new hot sake options previously available only in Japan. The wine program will also be upgraded to include new glasses, new wine selections and temperature-controlled storage.

Stockinger also described other enhancements, such as improved table-top presentation and steps of service, the use of red linen napkins, and standardized dress for all chefs and staff. Signage may also be changed to maximize visibility, and seating may be added, particularly at waterfront locations.

Japanese designer Eriko Horiki has also been hired to work on design elements in the restaurants and rework the menu design.

The renewal program also included the recent launch of a new e-mail loyalty program called The Chef’s Table, which tallies 400,000 members. Participants receive a free dinner on their birthday, and other promotions.

The company also recently launched the Children’s Club. Participants are given a free traditional Japanese mug on their birthday.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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