Launching a new or revised menu is a critical step for any foodservice operator. To ensure your launch stays on the right track, you need to bring your employees and customers along. The best operators do this by following a definitive and timed plan, which we’ve outlined below. Learn from their experience, and your staff and guests will buy in to your menu before its grand reveal.
60 days prior to menu launch: share the news with customers
At this point in developing your menu, you should be in the midst of testing it and training your staff. One other thing to add to this time frame: begin communicating with your customers. Make a case for change by sharing “what’s in it for them (WIFT)” so they understand how the updated menu will benefit them, or if it’s a new menu, what it brings to their dining experience. That rationale could include:
- Driven by seasonality.
- The desire to expose them to new flavors through new items.
- Festive options for the upcoming holidays.
- A new menu part for their enjoyment (i.e., shareables).
- A new daypart to meet their desires/schedules, like brunch.
The WIFT should focus on the value proposition of your new menu, which equals the quality and experience of the food plus the price (versus focusing on the price alone). Also use this opportunity to share what makes your menu different from the competition, pointing out unique flavor profiles, special execution methods and/or standout services, such as a free wine tasting with every entrée.
While the communication options might seem overwhelming these days, focus on those that will best reach your customers. A few options to consider:
- Social media.
- Tableside marketing.
- Conversations initiated by your staff.
- Direct customer marketing, including direct mail, radio, TV, etc.
30 days prior to menu launch: test your menu with a soft launch
A soft menu launch is a great way to execute your full menu and gather customer feedback in a controlled fashion. But who should you invite and how should you market it? Try one of these ideas or use them as inspiration to brainstorm your own.
- Host a menu & beverage pairing: Invite your customers and a few special guests to sample your menu alongside wine, beer or cocktails. Pick beverages that will enhance the taste of your dishes and your guests’ experience.
- Invite the media: Welcome local journalists, news station anchors, talk show hosts, food bloggers, etc. to try your new items in return for positive coverage. This free advertising will help spread awareness about your revised menu and bring in new customers.
- Create a customer loyalty event: Welcome your most loyal customers to a special tasting of your new menu. Spend time interacting with them and share what they’ve meant to you and your business.
To amp up the attendance turn it into a charity event. Donate all or a portion of the sales to a local charity or community cause.
Take the time to gather feedback on your menu during your soft launch. Use surveys, comment cards or take notes as you converse with attendees. Note any executional issues, flavor/ingredient fixes or descriptor suggestions and use the next couple of weeks to refine your menu.
15 days prior to menu launch: preparedness checks
In the two and a half weeks leading up to your full menu rollout, double-check that everything you need is accurate, functioning and in place. Here’s a quick rundown of key considerations:
- Check your point-of-sale system to make sure all menu items are correct so that guest checks will also be correct.
- Double-check your menu descriptions and images for accuracy and make sure you have the right print quantity.
- Survey your back-of-house to double-check equipment is fully functioning, food is properly stored and prep stations are set up.
- Host team meetings with your front-of-house and back-of-house staff to reiterate expectations around your new menu launch.
- Script messaging for your front-of-house staff, focusing on the host/hostess stand, so they can inform customers when the menu change will be taking place.
First day of launch: ready, set, go
Before each shift starts, have a quick meeting to reground your staff in the “why.” Remind everyone to focus on the guests, execution and the positive financial impact (if applicable) your new menu will have. Also reiterate the WIFT (see above) to guests, so your staff can keep conversations and answers to question focused on the positive.
Ask each employee to confirm their role and responsibilities, so objectives for their shift remain clear. To prevent small issues from becoming bigger dilemmas, assign team leads as problem-solvers to specific tasks/areas, such as tableside, check processing, expediting station, front-of-house, back-of-house and the front desk/hostess stand. Have extra staff in place at all areas.
Be prepared to concentrate your guest service efforts on hospitality. This means you and your service staff will be engaging with guests, asking open-ended questions about their experiences with your menu. However you frame the questions, they should lead to feedback. Consider having your back-of-house staff, such as your chefs, interact with guests, especially if their comments are specific to preparation or cooking techniques.
What to do during your menu launch
Plan for your menu launch to last anywhere from three days to two weeks. After each day of your launch period, debrief with your team. Talk through what’s working and what isn’t, and lay out plans to address areas that need improvement.
As you’re conversing with guests, gather names and contact information. Follow-up with each one of them, thanking them for their attendance and input. Share any changes you intend to make based on their feedback and encourage them to come back and see the changes in action.
Take detailed notes on how your menu rollout is going. This gives you something to reflect on for your next menu launch. Capture what you’d do again and what you’d handle differently, so you can improve and optimize.
This extended rollout plan effectively brings guests and employees along while evaluating the real-world execution. Follow it by communicating, testing, preparing and reflecting—you’ll show your staff and customers that you’re committed to them and that will help them value your new or updated menu.