I recently attended a restaurant marketing conference where speaker Steven Goldstein, a partner with San Francisco-based The Culinary Edge, presented not just what would happen to food in the future, but what was happening to the world around us that would shape the industry. Here is what he had to say.
What is The Culinary Edge?
The Culinary Edge is a food/restaurant industry consulting firm that specializes in helping restaurant companies evolve to the next place in their journeys. We provide brand, menu and operations solutions that help to ensure sustainable growth.
Can you explain what your definition of a menu strategy is?
We think of a menu strategy as the guiding, true north manifesto that connects a brand to its guests through the food/menu. It provides the tactics for fulfilling guests' needs with solutions that are desirable, feasible, profitable and defensible.
What trends or changes are you seeing in the restaurant segment?
- Focusing on core consumer groups that find satisfaction with what is believable within the context of a brand. For example, the burger QSR category is focusing on their core consumers and driving satisfaction first.
- Creating ways for guests to find health throughout menus as they define it, not as it might be defined to them.
- A move toward closer ties to a food or flavor origin, stripping away complexity and confusion, and honing in on simple and accurate flavor delivery.
What do you consider besides food in order to judge consumer sentiment?
- Overall experience value and satisfaction;
- What they consider as viable occasions to use a brand;
- The ability to become a staple in a guests' functional solution set;
- Friend recommendation.
Where and how you get inspiration?
Inspiration is important to our strategy/culinary teams, and it comes from many places in and outside of the restaurant industry, i.e. retail, online, sharing economy, etc.
Our teams believe in looking for inspiration in the way consumers fulfill their needs, applying those observations to the brands we work with and identifying directives that guide menu strategy creation and creative development.
What should marketers be watching in order to grab consumer attention?
The driving forces behind consumer behavior, rather than lower-level food form or flavor trends. For example, Sriracha is not a consumer driver, but we can extrapolate that what Sriracha represents (flavor complexity, added heat level) is driving guests toward those menu items, but probably not leading to increased discreet visits. So it's important to identify how those elements can be incorporated into a brand's menu in the most believable and purposeful way.
What is the best marketing advice you can share with a restaurant company regarding managing their menu?
- Know what food and beverage is believable for your brand promise.
- Identify the occasions for which guests are visiting you, beyond merely dayparts.
- Identify the role that each menu category and item plays, and make sure you are meeting the needs of your guests for those occasions.
- Build on what has worked — innovate purposefully, layering on capability and believability in small, individual steps.
What is your favorite quote?
Someone once said, "A brand is not what you say it is; it's what they say it is."
Lastly, what is your favorite food city?
Right now, Los Angeles, as it's an amalgam of many small marketplaces, each with its own dynamic and consumer needs, adding up to a terrific place to find consumer behavior and food inspiration, side by side.