Guest post by Dinova's director of strategic accounts, Janice McEachen.
For a small chef-owned restaurant seasonal menu changes are not too terribly complicated. However, when you consider larger restaurants and restaurant groups, there is a litany of factors that come into play: first is creative. Just a few of the many things that the chef will think about for each new dish are the seasonal flavors he wants to represent, new product availability, textures, color, and of course flavor balance. Food cost is also highly important; can this dish be prepared at a cost that is in line with the rest of the menu? If the restaurant’s average entrée price is $16 there is no sense in putting a $32 special on the menu; it’s not what the customers are coming in for. What about plating? Is it too complicated for the line cooks to plate it properly on a busy Saturday night? Does the restaurant have a complimentary plate to present it on, or will new service ware have to be ordered?
A chef will cook up a few (maybe several) versions of each dish and then decides on one. In larger organizations the chef is not the only decision maker, so he prepares the dish and presents it to upper management. It's different in every restaurant, but my experience is that the executive team gets together and tasted the proposed dish to decide if it would make the menu. Each component is considered on its own, and of course the overall dish is scrutinized.
Once the new menu item is approved the chef now has to order the product needed for the dish, after having previously checked availability. Sometimes there is a new technique used in the preparation of the entrée on which the kitchen staff needs to be trained. Once the kitchen staff is up to speed on how to prepare the dish, the front of the house staff has to be trained. In most restaurants the kitchen makes up a few plates and the service staff is briefed on the menu addition at the pre-shift meeting. They need to know how to describe the dish, ingredients (allergy warnings), and ideally the staff should taste it.
There are so many other wheels turning, such as photos of the new entrée to post on the website and printing new menus. There are, of course, a plethora of other details that I undoubtedly neglected to mention that go into this extensive process, but for now I'll have to leave it until next time.