Consultant's Corner Classic
Merchandising Your Staff Restaurant
By Christopher Brady, President & CEO at Romano Gatland

In classic culinary competitions participants are scored on originality, composition, taste and presentation.  Having competed in numerous culinary events, the presentation component is the make-or-break essential.  Anything less than an outstanding presentation skews the judges towards lower s ores in the other categories – taste and composition become guilty by association.   This same dynamic exists when a guest is viewing the menu offerings in your staff restaurant. 

There is a very specific reason why we “toast” clinking glass before a meal.  The tradition developed to ensure that we involve all five senses in the meal experience – taste, touch, smell, sight and sound.   This is an extremely import notion in understanding and developing superior food merchandising techniques.  It is the use of senses that drives the choices of our guests and ultimately their dining satisfaction. 

The development of a successful merchandising program begins with the evaluation and analysis of your current operation.  The evaluation process must allow for a painfully honest critique of shortcomings for the following elements: facility appeal, facility flow, equipment, smallwares, signage, menu coordination, menu items, products, display techniques and staff knowledge.  The evaluation team should include individuals outside of your department and ask them “what would you change, what could we improve upon, have you seen a better……?’ 

The daunting list of disciplines requiring analysis should not intimidate operators from the primary objective – is participating in your foodservice program a pleasurable experience.  A pleasurable dining experience is the ultimate responsibility of a sound merchandising program.   Only after establishing a sound program should an operator expect the ancillary results of increased revenue, stronger average check, and greater participation and satisfaction improvements.
Many of the elements that could improve the current merchandising program are obvious.  Top on the list is “where is my 1.2 million so I can build a new facility?”  If a windfall in next year’s budget is unlikely, you will need to create other opportunities leading to a successful program.  So where do those opportunities exist?  Based on the element to be evaluated listed above, let’s itemize:

Facility Appeal
If you have just opened your dream retail dining extravaganza and controlled the entire concept, design and construction process – congratulations.  If not you are suffering from the “they built it – I’m stuck with it” syndrome.  Changes can be made to the overall facility without having to completely renovate.  Wall finishes, resurfacing counters and fronts, new lighting patterns and fixtures, decorative treatments, music/mood elements and artifacting are some examples of inexpensive fixes that can be implemented in phases.   

The number one obstacle in creating a superior merchandising program is the front-of-the-house equipment.  In recent years equipment manufacturers have become sensitive to our merchandising desires.  There is still a way to go in area of equipment that makes the food look really good.  Induction, engineered stone food holding surfaces, lighting and breath guard help improve food appeal.

Menu Coordination, Items and Products
Facilities, equipment and servicewares are very important merchandising components.  However, the star of the show is the food.  Menu engineering is complicated.  How often have you had a dining experience and walked away muttering to yourself “what were they thinking?”  Odds are your dissatisfaction was due to poor menu engineering, item selection and product offerings.  If the menu coordination between all of the dining options in your facility(s) is not well planned daily – sound merchandising is impossible.

The individual items comprising the menu(s) should be developed with merchandising in mind.  Careful consideration should be given to the look and display appeal in relation to the area in which a particular item is to be sold.  Managers and culinarians must be creative while upholding some of the basic rules of cuisine.  Color coordination, texture variation, dimensional structure and overall beauty of each menu item begins the food component portion of a merchandising program.  A poach white fish on white rice pilaf with a béchamel sauce cannot be merchandised.  The flavors may be great but the color, textures and dimensions are monochromatic.

We eat with our eyes first.  Superior merchandising is the most efficient path to increased revenues and dining audience satisfaction.