One piece of advice that I consistently offer is that before making a decision, think about why it’s important to your business for the long haul. Ask yourself this about every little part of your business and you can’t go wrong.
When practicing this strategy, you also help create a “story” for your business, which is the most important thing in marketing today because it makes you stand out from the competition. As the seasons move from spring to summer, one item that should always be top of mind for chefs is produce, and I’m going to touch on a few ways you can differentiate yourself in this category.
Your menu should never offer the same fruits and vegetables all year-round. Seasonality presents such a huge opportunity for menu versatility, creating different moods, character and tastes during each part of the year. It’s been done in more progressive markets for years, but I am always surprised by how often it is not embraced.
If you can’t tell what season it is based on the items on your menu, then something is wrong. I encourage you to really look at the rhythms of the season to fully understand what’s available and how you can weave seasonal produce into your menu.
One easy way to do this is with Maines seasonal guides and flyers from Markon. We send these to our customers on a weekly basis so that you can always be on top of your game when it comes to produce. Find out what is coming in soon, what’s not readily available, and even some great application and usage ideas.
Think of seasonality as nature’s limited-time offer – hurry in now because the deal won’t last! The flavor is so good and so fresh that you simply must take advantage of it. Your customers will feel the same way. People have a tendency to appreciate, romanticize, and covet things that aren’t around all the time.
Along the same train of thought as seasonality is heirloom produce. These unique specialty items carry the same allure as seasonal produce meaning that it’s not widely available and adds a special touch to your menu. Maines philosophy for specialty produce is that if it’s growing somewhere in this world, and you give us enough time, we’ll get it to you.
Heirloom produce is grown from previous generations’ seeds. All the nuances and idiosyncrasies that come along with a particular variety of tomato, for example, would be captured and passed on using the seed from generation to generation.
My best comparison for heirloom produce is that they’re like snowflakes. They’re not commonly seen and every one is different. This creates a challenge for budget efficiency since they don’t generate large yields, they tend to cost slightly more. However, if you buy an heirloom carrot and put it on your menu, you’re going to have a brighter, more uniquely colorful plate than your average meal.
If you explain this distinction on your menu, you now have a dish with more value, interest and flavor – and one that can ultimately be priced higher. Heirlooms will also speak to your overall story in that it tells customers you have great knowledge about the food you’re serving.
“Local” has been a buzzword in the food industry for years. This one’s here to stay and the options only seem to get better as time goes by. Maines is a Pride of New York house, meaning we travel the least amount of distance for the best local produce. This allows us to off er it at an excellent value to our customers.
Often there is a perception that local produce is more expensive but we’ve actually found that the opposite is true. When the time from the field to your back door diminishes, so does the price. Putting the Pride of New York distinction on your menu along with produce-rich selections will capture a greater value and brand perception. Today, customers are willing to allocate more of their discretionary dollars to restaurants that are offering local produce… so don’t miss out on this opportunity!
By Chef Eamon Lee, CEC