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5 keys to a successful menu strategy at restaurant brands

I’ve had the great fortune to work with some amazing culinary leaders in the industry.

One such visionary is Stan Frankenthaler, who has led culinary at brands such as Dunkin’, Baskin-Robbins, Old Chicago, Rock Bottom, Gordon Biersch, and Shari’s Pies among others and is currently consulting as a fractional head of culinary for various organizations. Stan has also run his own award-winning white tablecloth restaurants in Boston and Cambridge.


Stan and I worked together during his time at Dunkin’. We built a pipeline process and long-term menu strategy with an amazing cross-functional team there. Recently, I sat down with him to try to crystalize his successful approach into some key points for readers of our blog.


Key #1 – Know your brand and create a clear menu strategy


Jeff: What is the number one thing people should be thinking about when they create their long-term menu strategy?


Stan: Brands have a life of their own, and even though their core equities generally stay similar, they evolve. The face of the brand changes over time. They grow their audience, attract new guests and new generations of customers. The very first thing to do in creating a successful menu strategy is to know your brand. The menu strategy dovetails with the brand’s architecture. The menu strategy has an architecture of its own. This provides structure and definition from which to create and grow.


Key # 2 – Leverage and engage expertise around menu


Jeff: Not every brand has


a senior culinary leader. You’ve held these roles, why do you think it’s necessary to have culinary expertise at the leadership level?


Stan: There are two elements that primarily make up a guest’s experience at any restaurant – the foods and beverages you enjoy; and the hospitality with which those are served. As a restaurateur and chef-owner, I watched out for both. In a larger company, generally you would have a head culinary officer (or corporate executive chef) and a head of operations. However, many brands don’t, and it’s America’s kitchen managers (KMs) that deliver great tasting meals every day to millions of consumers. So, it’s important to bring to those kitchen managers the recipes and procedures that work. They must be trainable and be made with ingredients that work in their operations. As a corporate chef it’s our role to translate the menu strategy into action for these KMs


Key #3 – Utilize a sound innovation process


Jeff: So, we have a strategy and solid culinary leadership. How do we design the right dishes for our restaurants?


Stan: Whether it’s white tablecloth, or café or counter service, innovating dishes is more than a creative process. It starts with an insight about your guest and where you decide you can get growth. The menu strategy guides us. It tells us what platforms on the menu are the most meaningful to our guests and to our brand. Dishes or menu items then must be designed with great visual appeal, great flavor, great aroma, and meet that customer need or insight.


You are going to write your recipe, make your dish, and then you need to get feedback and you should be open to making change. Engaging the guest in the menu development process really helps. Even when I ran my white tablecloth restaurants, we would run items as specials before they ever hit the menu. One of the best parts of innovation is that it engenders collaboration, and the outcome is almost always bigger and better than the starting point.



You also must ensure consistency and simplicity. In large restaurant chains, it’s important to consider the repeatability of a new item, especially in today’s environment with all the supply and labor challenges.


Key #4. Don’t forget your brand differentiation


Jeff: I write a lot about knowing your value proposition and brand differentiation as part of a supplier strategy, can you share your thoughts on how that works from the restaurant side?


Stan: This is back to our first point around strategy and knowing your brand, what you stand for, and why your guests c


ome to you. Being only a “copycat” never gets you to where you want to be. It’s so important to know your most important menu categories and platforms that really set you apart.


For example, Old Chicago, a brand I led F&B for in the past, really has a comfortable everyday feel to it, but the primary menu category is not an everyday item (pizza). So, we needed to innovate comfortable everyday foods that could be served with some sort of uniqueness that could offer customers a reason to visit more often. And those became our “create your own” Mac ‘n Cheeses, as well as a selection of on-trend burger builds. This was extremely successful for us, and we were even nominated for a Menu Masters award.


Key #5 – The importance of limited time offers


Jeff: We all know that using limited time offers (LTO) is something restaurants do in a variety of ways to drive sales. During times like this where everyone is trying to minimize skus, manage workload, etc., how can we help restaurants continue to innovate and hold interest with the consumer?


Stan: The marketplace continually ebbs and flows. The best brands are always innovating to ensure they have a well-stocked pipeline. The importance of a strategic approach to LTOs is that it allows you to expand and contract in a way that is more flexible to outside forces whether they’re challenges like labor, a down economy, or supply. LTOs also can fulfill opportunities like celebrating the seasons, or ev


en just capitalizing on hot trends.


Jeff: Any other closing thoughts for those wrestling with creating or refining their menu strategy?


Stan: The restaurant world has always been a pear-shaped world and that’s why I love it. What I mean by that is that it’s not perfect, and despite the ups and downs, it’s so satisfying to add something really positive to my customer’s day through serving them a delicious food or beverage from the menu. It’s the first thing I think about as I wake up in the morning and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep at night.


We hope you enjoyed these insights. If you don’t have someone with Stan’s passion for the menu and for his guests, please seek one out, for your brands sake, for your customers sake! I think you can see that it takes vision, culinary expertise, and a sound business process to make this all work. Whether you’re a restaurant brand or helping to supply them with innovative products, Stan’s keys will set you apart.