The Meaning of Menus
At the heart of every pub is one central need, the need to socialise. Irish people, just like French people, live to socialise. The two nationalities share many common traits; they love food, they love to drink and they love to chat. The starting point to any successful pub menu is to understand that when it comes to customers choosing to eat out, you must know how those customers perceive your food option and, most importantly, who your customers are and does your menu cater to them, explains Fred Cordonnier, associate director with Conor Kenny & Associates.
The modern pub is intrinsically linked to many topical and challenging issues, drink driving, health, youth culture, legislation, the challenge from retail multiples and much more. We know now that increasingly what customers want from modern pubs is changing, and one such major change lies with food.
Food is a vital component of the on trade in 2008 and this will continue to be the case in the years to come. As a result pubs have had to adapt quickly and many have rushed to incorporate food into their business – perhaps without properly planning what food means to their business and how to make the most from food. In my opinion food is both strength and an opportunity for publicans, for sure food can be challenging, but those who work hard will prosper from food. But, to work hard, you must first work smart.
The starting point for many seems to be the menu, but a badly thought out menu is about as useful as a shiny sports car without an engine. It might look the part, but it won’t get you anywhere. Before you think about a menu, you need to think about many other more pertinent issues. In other words, like every other project, you need a plan. The plan comes first, the menu will follow.
In my experience it is best to begin by identifying several key food factors, firstly, identify your local market – these are your regular customers. Investigate what they want to eat and query what they will be willing to pay and examine your current cooking procedures, it any.. Once you have established these points only then do you search out where you can buy good local and fresh produce.
This will generate food for thought and lead to better preparation. Now it is time to ask practical questions, which hopefully yield practical answers. For instance, examine your staff; are these the right people for food service? Are their cooking skills adequate? You may realise that you need to seek guidance, advice and expertise? Review what your competitors are doing and how successful they are? Ask yourself is it possible to innovate but always remember your budget. Before you start down the path of food you must have an achievable target.
The Main Event
Once you have decided to offer food you must make it attractive, different and most importantly, value for money. Today, customers will challenge, they will complain, they will walk out and they will even spread the word of an unsatisfactory experience so fast that your business may struggle to recover.
On the other hand, if you innovate, give great value, offer local fresh produce and create a menu that reflects their needs, pockets and taste, the recipe is there for success.
But, a good menu is simply the promise of good food. A good menu must be gift wrapped in so many other things. Remember, great dining adventures are about the experience – not just the food.
To create that adventure you must ask yourself some difficult but rewarding questions:
Do you know what you are doing, or about to do? – Honestly?
Are you confident in your product, producers and suppliers?
Are their produce and your product capable of creating value for money?
Is the ambience good, is your Pub comfortable?
Are your staff friendly and smiling giving sincere greetings and warm goodbyes?
Do they know their food; have they tasted it before service?
Does the menu entice and excite you, does it create expectation?
Is it well written and well presented?
Does it give you choice, treats and healthy options?
Is it good value?
Would you recommend it to your best friend?
Is it really an alternative to ‘the fella down the road’?
The Bit on the Side
Ask anyone about their best ever dining experience – dinner party, pub, restaurant, or holiday and their review is unlikely to start with ‘the food was great’ rather it will begin ‘they are so nice in their, lovely staff’.
Every great dining experience, be it in a pub or fine dining Michelin Star restaurant, are only as good as the people creating the experience. If food is the main course, your people are the ‘bit on the side’. To make your menu memorable, they must support that. If you ignore this reality you are wasting your time. Here are the supporting acts that must be right:
Involve your suppliers in the menu and in your pub marketing plan
Make sure your service staff are trained in the fine art of customer care
Make sure your staff knows the menu and why it is different
Get staff to taste the food you serve
Ensure all staff are clean, neat and tidy
Check if the uniform matches the menu – Do you know what fits casual dining, fine dining, Brasserie, bistro, grill room?
Have you good leaders who lead from the front?
Do staff smile?
Do they engage with the customer?
Do they present the table, menu, and the knowledge properly and with confidence?
Do they look after children properly or see them as a nuisance?
Do they know how to up-sell?
Do you train staff again and again? - Superb pubs, restaurants and hotels do everyday.
When you put your menu together ensure that it is clear and easy to read. If you source products from local supplier always highlight this strongly on your menu – customers increasingly want to know where they food is sourced. Increasingly menus offer suggestions on what wines, beers etc match various food dishes and always ensure you add and highlight healthier food dishes.
Remember, planning is vital, you must have a clear food strategy and work to realise your vision. As a French man I have made Ireland my home for me and my family. It is a great country full of great people with wonderful pubs. For Irish bars there is opportunity but there is also danger. Every business, be it a Michelin star restaurant or a pub in a remote rural location, must constantly give their local market what its wants. That is always the bottom line and the market will always decide. If you give your market great food, at a fair price, with good smiling service in a warm comfortable setting, you will do very well. If you do not, you will be in the majority of ‘pubs that do ok food’… but you won't be in demand.
Fred Cordonnier is one of Ireland’s most distinguished and successful Chefs. His career has seen him work in many fine dining and Michel Star restaurants and including London’s Inn on the Park, where he trained under Bruno Loubet. Fred has held the post of head chef at Dublin’s well known Michelin Star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and he was also executive chef at the Tea Rooms, Clarence Hotel and he also opened the The Mill Restaurant at The Village at Lyons for the late Dr Tony Ryan. At Hospitality industry consultants, Conor Kenny & Associates, Fred is responsible for all things food.