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FSD Culinary Council

How to handle custom menu challenges

Question:

How are you handling your biggest challenges with customizable menu items?

Answers from FSD's Culinary Council

Customizable menus provide our guests with flexibility and a sense of pampering, but they do require some of us to adjust our way of thinking sometimes.

One of the biggest issues is deciding which options to offer. You have to determine if the options offered are going to be in the same price range or if there will be tiered pricing. Waste also can be a factor if one of the options is very perishable or not popular.

It’s also important to constantly evaluate the popularity of customizable options and adjust inventory accordingly—even they can suffer menu fatigue.

—Bill Brizzolara
Campus Executive Chef
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, N.C.

We offer a pho bowl every other week, which is a huge success and our biggest single-day seller. We offer only vegetarian broth, as many of our customers wanted no meat products, and trying to batch beef and chicken broth for a two-person station made it difficult to keep up. Having only one broth helped solve the problem of waste and shortage, and sped up the process, as we make our own pho broth.

We also serve a wok bowl. One of the challenges is people eat with their eyes and sometimes the food barely fits into the bowl! The wok bowl is paid for by the ounce, and some customers are shocked by how much it costs. We tried smaller bowls, and that seemed to help, but we still have a few customers who don’t like the price when they are choosing how much they put into the bowls.

—Gregory Gates
Executive Chef
Kaiser Permanente
Oakland, Calif.

We currently have one retail location where we allow full customization of the menu, as it is a space that is used to bring awareness to cancer-fighting foods used in research. To have so many options for so many meals takes a lot of items, so we run a very small, controllable menu that changes daily. It keeps the options fresh for the guests.

—Drew Patterson
Culinary Director for Nutrition Services
Ohio State University Wexner Center
Columbus, Ohio

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