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Nancy Kruse State of the Plate 2018

Kruse: ‘Experiential’ menus are key to driving restaurant sales

Eye-popping presentation, new techniques help get consumers off the couch

There is profound disruption taking place in the retail world, and operators need to disrupt their approach to menu R&D as well, if they want to get consumers off the couch and through their doors, culinary expert Nancy Kruse said in her annual State of the Plate keynote.

Though consumer confidence and disposable income are up, “restaurant spending growth is not responding the way that it has historically to these larger economic forces.”

Ron Ruggless

What is keeping customers at home?

Everything from large screen TVs (and the Netflix shows consumers can binge on them) to grocer innovation are working together to keep consumers on the couch or in the kitchen. Kruse likened it to “being bitten to death by ducks. It’s little bits and bites here and there from unexpected sources.”

What can restaurants do to compete?

·      Emphasize the experience. Pull out all the stops to offer something customers can’t duplicate at home. This could mean using a movie set designer to update decor or creating an “a small but affordable escape to an exotic destination.” Conveying the story behind a dish or incorporating show-stopping presentation can menu can take customers on little journeys as well, she added.

·      Create eye-popping dishes. Make customers do a double-take with trendy ingredients like food grade gold or activated charcoal. Or try something completely outside the box, like Starbucks’ Crystal Ball Frappuccino. As Kruse said: “20th-century take on plate presentation was all about eye-appeal. 21st Century take is all about iPhone appeal.”

·      Create dishes that can’t be recreated at home. Menus are moving from barbeque to smoking. These may sound like similar cooking techniques, but it’s far less likely a consumer has a smoker in the house, which plays up a restaurant’s expertise.

·      Give vegetables some love. Vegetables and particularly carrots are having a moment. Cook them in a way diners would never dream of doing at home. Kruse said she has even seen fermented carrots. That said, we are certainly not becoming a nation of vegetarians. But consumers still want to feel good about what they eat. Efforts by major chains, including McDonald’s, to clean up their menus, has given consumers permission to indulge their love of meat without regret, Kruse said.

“We’d really like to eat what we’d like to eat, but we’d like your permission," she said. "We’d like you to make us feel virtuous by somehow making it better.”

Contact Gloria Dawson at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @GloriaDawson

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