Tips for Creating Specials
Creating a specials sheet or menu insert offers multiple great opportunities. For your kitchen staff, specials offer a chance to shine by creating something new or interesting that varies from the regular menu and incorporates new components. For management, specials allow you to present another facet of the business, either by using local vendors, creating seasonal entrees or exploring cuisine from different parts of the world. Guests expect a fine-dining restaurant to create something unique for their dining experience. Here’s your chance to compose a dish worthy of Iron Chef and present it in an inspiring, articulate manner.
What to Use
It’s not easy to come up with ideas for specials everyday. In fact, the tendency is to fall into the rut of whipping up the same old entrees or repeating them until guests know what to expect. Also, if you have bought a specific protein to use as a special—as is often the case—you’ll be inclined to use that protein until it’s gone.
When brainstorming for new ideas for specials, start with what your vendors have available and what they have that is cheap or in season. Seafood and produce are your most volatile commodities, and have the greatest fluctuation in prices. If you are preparing specials that incorporate seafood or produce, be sure to get them at the right price, based on the right time of the year.
It’s important to prepare something that your guests can’t find anywhere else in town. Your special should also be something unlike anything else on your menu. This means that steakhouses shouldn’t be afraid to create seafood specials, and Italian restaurants should venture slightly while remaining loyal to the business model. When brainstorming for new recipes, don’t be afraid to look online to see what other restaurants are doing, or to explore your favorite culinary websites to mine for ideas.
Cost, Cost, Cost
Unfortunately, a kitchen can never get around the need to maintain the right food cost. Before offering that rare Kobe beef, be sure the cost matches your specials price model. In other words, start with the price range you want to charge for your specials, and purchase proteins that fit in terms of food cost. Cheaper proteins allow you to incorporate more components into your entrée.
Another good place to start is the order sheet from your food vendors. When considering a seafood special, scan the prices for exceptionally low offers or special deals. Seafood is especially vulnerable to price reductions based on the season or the migration patterns of the fish. Some of the best ideas come from a discounted protein on a price sheet.
Specials must be properly presented in order to be effective. This begins with the manner in which you publicize them to guests. Many restaurants print off special sheets or menu inserts, and this is my favorite method. Guests anticipate menu inserts and are happy to read addenda to the menu.
Specials sheets represent another face on your business, and must be treated as such. Many great restaurants have appalling special sheets. They should be spelled correctly and have proper punctuation. A good idea is to prepare them using Microsoft Publisher or another software program that incorporates fancy fonts, borders and color schemes.
Another option is training servers to verbalize specials. Many restaurants use this method, but few do so correctly. Verbalized specials have to be spoken with enthusiasm and energy, and without “um’s” interjected. The second best way to infuse your servers with enthusiasm is to let them try your specials. The best way is to threaten their jobs, but that seems extreme (in most cases).
Make it a challenge
Specials are a great way for your Executive Chef to challenge his kitchen staff. Give one kitchen member a day of the week and let each of them to compete to see who can create the best special each week. Throw some money into the equation; anything to stir the competitive juices.
This business is supposed to be fun, and it’s worth remembering that creating specials can be an exciting challenge and a new way to present your kitchen. Don’t let them be a burden and don’t repeat them too often, and they’ll be the opportunity they should be.