1. Consumer Research/Marketing
The first step of the menu development process involves identifying and defining what consumers’ needs/desires may not be fully met with the brand’s current menu items. This inherently means that the brand’s managers know in detail their target consumer base, and those consumers’ needs and desires, e.g. lifestyle; changes emerging in their lifestyle; time of day when customers are interested in purchasing from a brand. This information is gathered through on-going market research. Next, hundreds of product concepts targeted toward those with unmet needs/desires are developed that meet the purchase price and profit constraints of the brand, are operationally feasible for the current back-of-the-house layouts and equipment, and will function easily from a packaging and presentation perspective. These menu item concepts are filtered through specific market research testing.
2. Develop the Product
To actually create the products identified as having excellent potential in the conceptualization process, above, the food scientists and chef(s) at the chain’s headquarters engage with one or more key, trusted suppliers (food processing companies) to develop prototypes. This may take only six to twelve months, or it may take several years. Unexpected issues generally arise, so there may be significant trial and error in the work to create the first prototypes.
3. Test Your Product
Once prototypes deemed operationally feasible have been created, multiple stages of testing begin. The new menu item is tested through market research, e.g. focus groups. Verification that the new menu item is, in fact, appealing to the chain’s target consumers must be done. Later, operational testing is critical to ensure that the product(s) can be distributed to stores and produced in the back-of-the-house without negatively impacting on the existing menu items and employees’ ability to prepare and “deliver” all products without decreasing speed-of-service. Feedback obtained from any of these tests is used to modify the new product, or discontinue testing. Finally, test marketing is done to ensure that entire markets, in one or more areas of the country, can operate efficiently and market the new product(s) as planned with this addition, all the way from distribution, preparation in-restaurant, to “delivery” to customers, meeting a unique consumer need/desire.
4. Product Launch
After testing indicates that the product(s) should be successful in the marketplace, it is launched by introducing it to consumers as a new menu item. Carefully developed marketing initiatives accompany the product introduction to communicate with potential customers. Product “tweaks” may need to be made even at this stage if indicated by restaurant owners, consumer feedback, or supply chain issues.