Sell the SIZZLE, Not the Steak: Increase Restaurant Sales

Nov 3, 2016 9:33:24 AM / by Matt Thompson

You have probably heard the saying “Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak.” This essentially means you should be selling the benefits of your product instead of the features, or selling people what they want as opposed to what they need. Anyway you say it, this phrase comes down to the simple fact that consumers will buy based on emotion and justify their purchases using facts. As a restaurant owner, you have to know when you need to sell the sizzle and when to sell the steak in your quest to increase restaurant sales. One way to focus on selling the sizzle, getting people to buy based on emotion with justification of the purchase with facts, is by focusing on your ingredients. The ingredients you use when constructing your menu are the soul, the foundation, of your food. Ingredients are like the soap opera drama of your food story. Any restaurant can sell a burger, but what makes your burger more special than the restaurant next door? When your food has a story to tell, your servers can sell it easier and your sales will increase as a result. To help you sell the sizzle, learn how to increase restaurant sales with ingredients.

Understand the Profit of Each Dish

Before you can begin your quest to increase restaurant sales for the perfect wow-factor ingredients, you first have to look at the profit of each dish by performing a food cost analysis. This is an important step if it has been a while since you have performed a food cost analysis (or if you have never done it!). It is important to break down to a micro level - look at the cost of each ingredient in a dish as well as the amount of that ingredient you use and compare that price to what you charge for the total dish.

Often without realizing it, restaurant owners lose money on dishes because the cost of ingredients has changed or the cooks are using more of an ingredient than the recipe specifies. Of course there will be variations based on patron orders, but you can look at your base cost to see how profitable each item is.

Analyze Current Dish Performance

Now that you have performed a cost analysis on your ingredients, you need to decide which menu items need to stick around and which need to be eliminated in favor of an updated dish. The all-star, best selling items should not be touched. The phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies here. Instead, break down your remaining menu items into three categories - dishes you make money on that no one orders, dishes that you lose money on but that are incredibly popular, and dishes that you do not make money on and that no one likes to order.

  • Money Makers and Low Orders: If you have some menu items that are constructed to be highly profitable but no one is ordering them, it is time to analyze the taste. Changing up the ingredients or altering the dish slightly could help these dishes gain popularity.
  • Money Losers and High Orders: There are certainly dishes you serve that everyone loves to order but that you do not make much money on. This could be one of two reasons - your ingredient price does not match what you are charging or your portion sizes are too large. Firsts look to see if those dishes have a lot of food left on the plate before busboys clear it. If that is not the problem, it is time to look at your ingredients.
  • Money Losers and Low Orders: Pretty simple here - consider removing these items from your menu in favor of updated dishes with incredible ingredients.

Put Ingredients First

It is very difficult to do, but to make your ingredients the star of your restaurant (and therefore the key in how to increase restaurant sales), you need to put ingredients first. This concept comes from real farm-to-table cooking that instructs chefs to respond to what the landscape around us wants to grow instead of thinking about how great a dish will be and forcing the construction of ingredients to make it.

Start with thinking about star ingredients that really make people go "wow" when they see it on a menu. One of the easiest ways to decide this is to look at the seasonal ingredients and craft special dishes that capture the flavor of summertime or the warmth of fall. You can also look for specially sourced ingredients that give your servers a story to talk about when discussing menu items with the patrons.

From there, you can marry ingredients to create the unique flavor that will help define your restaurant reputation. Customers will see the unique blend of flavors and how you have crafted these dishes to put ingredients first. Constructing your menu in such a way that highlights the artisan ingredients will help tell the story and encourage customers to experiment in their dish choices.

How to Increase Restaurant Sales? Use the Ingredients to Tell A Story...

There are two main reasons why your ingredients need to be the star in order to increase restaurant sales. The first - the diner will know where their food comes from and the care in crafting it. Knowing where and how an heirloom tomato used in a dish was grown and by whom gives a memorable food story that is intimate and personal. A connection to the food where the guest not only feels confident in the quality but also understands what went into creating the meal is how to increase restaurant sales to keep customers coming back for more.

The second reason is strictly from a sales perspective. Using ingredients to paint a picture of the story of the food gives your servers something fantastic to talk about. Approach it with this mindset - what is it about your food that is special or different from competitors? You want your ingredients to add intrigue and curiosity to your dish.

Here is an example. Your competitor may serve a Sesame crusted yellowtail tuna, but you can add that flavor of intrigue and the story by dusting the top with Pink Hawaiian Alaea Sea Salt. Your server can tell the story of the sea salt, how the the clay it is made from is composed of over 80 separate minerals rich in iron oxide. Alaea salt is an unrefined sea salt that is mixed with the red alae volcanic clay, giving it that pink and brown color from the iron oxide particles of the clay. Even though the salt has a low cost per portion, the Hawaiian Alaea sea salt will add a tremendous value to your dish because of the story.

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Matt Thompson

Written by Matt Thompson

Matt has let his lifelong passion of food and people lead him to 15 amazing years as a restaurant manager and another 9 years working as a Director with a major food service distributor. He has channeled this passion to help create and run ShiftNote. When he's not dominating the food service industry, he's spending time with his 4 children and cheering on the Tigers as a Mizzou Alumni.

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