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Getting a Suburban Market to try New Things, Ideas?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

We are located in a fairly large city, about 40 mins outside the metro, in a downtown location in a lower-middle income market. We sell entrees from $17-$24 and that seems to be a fairly good price range for us, despite still some grumblings of our prices "being too high". Doing things a little more "upscale" (and I use that word lightly) and being a little more creative but still comfortable for our clientele is the route we want to go for long term success. There is a market for this in our area as there are two other successful restaurants practically on our doorstep that do similar things food wise. I by know means think foie grais or roasted marrow would sell in our market, but I do think we can be better than what we are currently doing.

 

We don't have a super adventurous clientele, getting them to try things that are slightly different is very hard. I'm not talking sweetbreads and tripe here I talking ribeyes ("sooo fatty!") and truffle oil ("it smells"!). While this is not every customer that walks in it's enough people to scare the owner and want to revert to sandwiches and nachos. Most do enjoy it once they actually try it. Simply getting them to order these things seems to be most difficult especially if there is something they are not 100% sure about (creme fraiche, hangar steaks, chimichurri, ricotta salata cheese, truffle oil, brioche etc, etc.). It doesn't help that we have a poor FOH staff that has no oversight and have zero real training or food knowledge themselves. Getting them to simply describe things or try to push a certain item is difficult BUT it is getting better little by little. Getting FOH excited themselves about some new menu items is so difficult as NONE have what I call a decent palate, a properly seasoned steak is "too salty" for them and a buttery pommes puree "sounds disgusting". A whole new culture in the restaurant is what we need but this may never happen and I understand that.

 

So are there any lessons to getting customers to try new things (and stop ordering so many burgers and steak tips when we have a beautiful ribeye on the menu!). One thing we are doing is making menu descriptions fool-proof, for example pommes puree will be creamy mashed potatoes and chevre will be goat's cheese. This way menu items are more approachable and less likely to intimidate them. We are working slowly but surely to get FOH to do more than simply take orders and pour drinks, this will take a lot of time but most do have the right attitude at least.

 

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

post #2 of 10

Dumb it down, stick with the things your target audience knows.

Do you have a meeting with the foh before service to explain the specials, what you want them to push, 86'd, etc?.....

You also have to let them try the specials so they have an idea of what to sell.

Get them excited every night with those tasters in the window, If you can't sell brioche, educate the staff if they have no direction from the front. Let them taste it so they aren't afraid of a fancy name for a piece of bread.

What's the menu like?

post #3 of 10

"You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink."

 

.....

 

Restaurants serve things that local people want to eat; in return local people give money to restaurants that serve what they want to eat.  (tourist traps and vacation places are exceptions)

 

Trying to 'educate' people on what they should pay for is an exercise in futility.

 

You should be serving things that the people want to pay for!  (hint-hint ... THIS IS the LOCAL Food!)

(I'm not saying you can't get a bit creative ... but you have to keep it recognizable).

 

Sometimes the food that people are willing to pay for isn't the type of food you like and/or like to cook.

This is business ... not hosting a crowd or having friends over or cooking for family.

It is a business.

 

Seriously - is McD's a great meal? Nope... could you do better?  Probably.  So why can't you get customers?  While McD's had Eleventy-billion happily served...????

 

Because it is what people want... 

 

(PS - tell me what the people want in your community and I'll tell you what to cook!)

 

Comments like too Salty, too fatty, too smelly and cultured dairy what?   

Should be serious clues...

----

 


"Plus, this method makes you look like a complete lunatic. If you care about that sort of thing".  - Dave Arnold

 

Reply

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"Plus, this method makes you look like a complete lunatic. If you care about that sort of thing".  - Dave Arnold

 

Reply
post #4 of 10
Thread Starter 

Chefbuba,

Thanks for your input. We do have FOH pre-meal to explain 86'd things, the specials, etc. and it does help a lot. However, the owner pinches pennies everywhere and most of the servers do not even come in til after pre-meal and they get a second-hand condensed version from their fellow FOH peers. I do put out a staff flatbread or special here and there to get them to actually eat it, they almost always like it. And it does get sold more (funny how it happens when THEY like it lol) once they try it so we are making small strides with them everyday. Educating is very tough though as basically they are learning everything from the ground up, I usually get a look like "I kinda get it?" even with simple things. Young, part-time and inexperienced servers really make things without a strong FOH leader.

 

MichaelGA,

Thanks for the input. I completely get that this is a business, I deal with food costs, sales and customer comments everyday. I also understand there is a market for things more than burgers, chicken parms and frozen chicken wings in my immediate area as I mentioned there are two upscale restaurants within 3 minutes of mine that are the two most popular places in town. Our immediate area is loaded with burger places, crappy "italian" food, pizza places, burrito places etc. We used to do more upscale things food wise years ago and when our head chef and sous walked out basically the place sank tremendously food quality wise and so did our once popular customer base. We are trying to win back and branch out to a customer base that was lost during economic times and a during personnel changes. I was not around during these times but the owner says sales and volume were double what they are now, hence my thinking that we can be more successful with a better quality product. They used to consistently sell ribeyes 6 years ago, the customer base has remained the same it's the restaurant that's had the changes and not for the better.

post #5 of 10
While I am by no means as experienced as some on these forums I feel I have some input on this as I have been in a very similar situation.
I know how you feel, not having quality F.O.H is a very frustrating thing as all your efforts and positive / creative energy can be a waste of time if they personally don't like the sound of something. You said they don't have strong leadership. This absolutely has to change. Is it because the restaurant manager is not very good? Or is there no manager? I have found just one motivated, good quality, no b.s , hands on F.O.H leader can whip a bunch of undertrained, uneducated misfits into quality staff reasonably quickly. Without a good F.O.H leader who shares your (and the owners?) direction for the business it will be very slow and painful. Don't lower your standards, set the standard, and slowly everyone else's will rise.

In terms of the clientele I think your on the right track with simplifying the menu description. I think as chefs sometimes we can come across as pretentious when we say things like pommes purée instead of mash potato when we are detailing with a market that is less educated than what we are used to.

What is your competition ( the other upscale restaurants ) doing that you are not?
Is it just that your restaurant lost its market share when it went through bad times with previous chefs leaving?
Rebuilding the restaurants reputation and image will take time and perseverance but if your doing everything right, slowly the customers you want will come back.

Don't give up, think of it as a challenge smile.gif
post #6 of 10
Thread Starter 

geo87,

Thanks for the input. I said the EXACT same thing to the owner when I said we're slowly rebuilding the reputation of the restaurant, which was not well received (blindly thinks there is "nothing" wrong when he hasn't paid in self in years).

 

As for the FOH issues they previously had no manager leading the charge, but they have had a GM that signed on 5 months ago.She has little actual restaurant work than being a server, not a manager. She only wants to do things like update our facebook, some marketing, improving our beer selection, trying to play boss to servers etc. etc. She wants no part of training FOH staff because she doesn't know how to do it herself. She doesn't know much of anything about food or how to approach a table and push a product so obviously she can't train someone else to do it if she's oblivious herself. Just yesterday she suggested a customer get the $10 burger and fries instead of suggesting the shrimp dish at $20 when the customer was clearly debating between the two and would have got the $20 entree with a little help.

 

As for losing the market share yes it was just us the lost business when personnel changes occurred. The other upscale place picked up in business (I used to work there so I know this for a fact) and the other has always been busy and still is.

 

Also, as far as my standards go I absolutely believe I am on the right track. The owner, however, was ready to throw in the towel a year ago so isn't quite motivated when it comes to improving the standards. She think everything is "too fancy" (why is blanching the basil for a pesto fancy?) and if she had her way she would be doing nachos, burgers, chicken parms exclusively. What she doesn't realize is that even when she was successful business wise a few years ago her "upscale" food was never that good to begin with. Couple that with losing a head chef and a sous chef never to be replaced and she really developed a poor reputation food wise. I can't tell her this because she is 100% certain she has always had the best food in the city.

post #7 of 10
This sounds frustrating. All I can say is a business where each manager wants to do different things is unlikely to succeed. And the bottom line is the owner and chef must agree on food direction or at least the owner trust in the chef enough to let them do as they see fit.

Maybe suggest a timeframe to the owner with set targets for performance indicaters. E.g you get to do as you want with food as long as sales increase by 5% in 6 months and 10% in 12 months etc. and if you meet these targets it should be proof to the owner your on the right track and they could get more co-operative

In terms of blanching basil as fansy did you explain in simple terms that it will keep pesto greener for longer sealing in colour and increasing shelf life / reducing wastage?
At least if you have sound,easy to understand explinations for your "fancy" methods surely they can't argue?
I had a similar problem with owners not understanding why so much effort/ time/ trim / miripoix etc etc goes into sauce "don't you just reduce stock?" Ahh no . Then I explained it simply and got them to taste the difference. Superior product is always worth effort smile.gif

As for your non hands on g.m .... Have fun with that ! wink.gif
post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 

geo87,

Thanks again. I do explain techniques like blanching basil simply but I still get rolled-eyes from the owner/head chef. She never really seems to be happy with anything unless it's her own idea. I totally agree with the me (the sous) the owner (and head chef) and the GM all going in different directions is a recipe for disaster. Open ears and closed mouths are very hard to find in my place!
 

post #9 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by linecook854 View Post

Open ears and closed mouths are very hard to find in my place!

 


Those are hard to find in ANY place.
post #10 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by linecook854 View Post

geo87,
Thanks again. I do explain techniques like blanching basil simply but I still get rolled-eyes from the owner/head chef. She never really seems to be happy with anything unless it's her own idea. I totally agree with the me (the sous) the owner (and head chef) and the GM all going in different directions is a recipe for disaster. Open ears and closed mouths are very hard to find in my place!

Ah sorry I thought you were the head chef. This makes it even more frustrating. You have my deepest sympathys smile.gif
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