Restaurants are starting to deploy menu boards in greater numbers, not just to meet FDA regulations but also to improve the customer experience and change content on the fly. However, it can still be a struggle to keep the menu content fresh to meet customer expectations. At a panel entitled, “Using mixology to liven up your menu without confusing your customers,” at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Louisville, Kentucky, four panelists discussed how to mix up the menu.
Michelle Davis, senior director of sales, F’real Foods, moderated the panel consisting of Peter Boylan, president, Ballard Brands, Jonathan Luther, co-founder and proprietor, JJ’s Red Hots, Steve Schulze, co-founder and CEO, Nekter Juice Bar and Nicole Shephard, innovation brand manager, Dunkin’ Brands.
What do customers want?
Customers are rapidly changing their expectations, especially among the newest generation: Gen Z, born in the late 90s and 2000s. Gen Zers, for example, are preferring low alcohol content beverages and more unique flavors such as bitter, spicy and ginger, according to Davis.
More generally, Davis pointed out that 52 percent of consumers want photos of drinks on the menu and 50 percent want more specific details on the menu board, such as the ingredients, brands, flavors and price.
Customers are also demanding more specialty coffee, shakes, juice, non-carbonated and frozen drinks.
In order to take advantage of these trends, restaurants need to look at the bigger picture and work closely with partners.
Look at the bigger picture
Sometimes, certain trends can be much bigger than they first appear. Shephard talked about how cold brew coffee was a big launch for Dunkin’ Brands. The restaurant later realized customer demand for cold brew was part of a larger push for greater customization.
“The trend is that customers want all of our beverages available hot, iced and frozen,” Shephard said.
One way to uncover these trends is to run several limited-time offers for various products, according to Boylan. This allows you to see what the market will actually support and which ones are just temporary crazes.
Work closely with partners
Restaurants need to work closely with all of their partners to ensure they uncover and take advantage of product trends and customer expectations.
Luther, for example, said JJ Red Hot’s will regularly work together with craft breweries to feature their beers at the restaurant. This partnership helps drive more customers through social media and word of mouth.
Shephard encouraged restaurants to work closely with research partners to uncover answers to questions such as, “What are other coffee shops doing? What ingredients are trending?”
With this type of research, you can also get a clearer picture of regional customer trends. Schulze said that charcoal beverages used to be huge in California, but the demand has since waned in that state, even as other areas began to pick up demand.
Customer expectations are constantly changing, so restaurants need to be at the top of their game to keep their menus fresh.
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