Until six months ago, the Madison Avenue Grill was a thriving 300-unit casual dining chain with restaurants stretching from Seattle, Washington, to London, England. But lately the news has not been so good. Karen Seaton, financial officer for the chain, has discovered that customer counts are falling off, with sales down 2.9 percent.
All signs pointed to the menu, although Madison Avenue Grill has established a strong reputation as a quality restaurant serving upscale burgers, ribs, and fish, the novelty of their offerings has faded.
In many markets, fresher, trendier concepts have taken hold. If the Grill is to withstand the competition, the menu has to change, and sooner the better.
After consulting with the COO and company co-founder Marcus Turner, Karen has gained the opportunity to test a new menu concept. To help develop that concept, she has called a 9 am meeting with Marcus and three other company leaders: Jorge Estrada, director of marketing; Anne Hudson, director of operations/service; and Chef Charles Gustafson.
Her instructions to each: Come prepared to suggest one new menu item that can be launched immediately to turn the situations around – and be prepared to offer a rationale for the recommendation.
The five met around a large conference table in Marcus Turner’s office. Karen made certain there were financial reports at each place.
“Since you’re all aware of why we’re meeting today, I’ll keep the preliminaries brief. In a nutshell, our current numbers do not look good,” she said. “The bottom lines in jeopardy, people, and if we don’t do something fast, it’s going to look even worse. Since the problems all seem to point to our menu, that’s where I suggest we look for solutions.
You’re all here because I think we’ll be able to come to some creative solutions if we work together. Input from each of you is important, because any change we make affects the control point’s value chain: menu, purchasing, receiving, storing, issuing, preparing, cooking, holding, serving, service, guest satisfaction. We need the one solution that will work best for everyone in the operation.
“So, what’s your new menu idea?” Ann Hudson asked, looking up from her notepad.
“I think we need something that takes relatively little prep time, offers a high margin, and brings people through the doors,” Karen said. “A profitable convenience food, if you will.”
At the word’s convenience food, Chef Gustafson’s jaw tightened; “And your recommendation?”
“Done to death,” Jorge Estrada sighed. “And haven’t you heard that beef is out?”
“If you want convenience,” the chef interjected, “you couldn’t picka more inconvenient cut. It’s too easy to overcook. Of course, with proper slow-cooking equipment, it can manage, but-
Karen held up her hands. “Okay, okay. Given the current financials, I’m certainly not going to recommend new equipment in every unit. I know I like prime rib and thought it would be a big hit.”
COO Marcus Turner leaned forward, rubbing his hands. “You know what I like? I think-“
“If you want to bring people through the door, you have to give them what they want,” Jorge interrupted. “All of my market research is pointing to one thing: pita wraps.
They very hot right now. They capture people’s fondness for lighter, healthier food; you can make them any way you want – Tex-Mex, Greek, stir-fry, whatever; and they are guaranteed to pull people into our operations. If you want even more reasons, they’re fast and easy to prepare, so we can turn more tables at lunch and dinner.”
“Wraps have a very low margin, Jorge,” Karen said, frowning.
“But we’ll make it up through increased traffic.”
“I’m not so sure,” Anne said. “I can tell you right now that my servers are not going to be happy pushing $4 or $5 wraps all the time. To bring their tips up, they’re going to be recommending higher-priced items. And frankly, wraps can be messy. That may mean my bussers have to spend a little more time cleaning up at each table, and that may cut into your fast-turning tables theory.”
“Not to mention the additional prep time,” Charles said. “Suddenly we’re doing a lot of cutting and chopping we didn’t need to do before.” He paused before adding, “And for what? So, we can jump on the latest sandwich bandwagon. Where’s the creativity in that?”
“Speaking of creativity – “Marcus began.
Karen cleared her throat and turned to Anne Hudson. “What’s your menu solution?”
Anne flipped through her notepad, searching for her notes. “To be honest, I’m not all that particular about what we decide. I just need something my people can sell easily, that generates a good-size check, and that guests will enjoy.
I, uh- “at last she found her notes- “I’m recommending some kind of dessert special, offered either nightly or weekly. I think people will dome to see what specials are – that addresses your traffic concerns, Jorge – and $4 and $5 desserts represent a good profit for the company while boosting the check average nicely for our servers,” she said, nodding at Karen.
“We could even make our kitchen staff happy by purchasing brand-name desserts that require minimal prepping and can be easily stored, garnished, and served.”
Chef Charles, who had been looking increasingly hopeful as Anne described her idea, suddenly reddened. “Why does the Grill even pay me a salary? Here I am, a classically trained chef who could help turn things around for us, and you recommend that we throw something on a plate that our guests could just as easily pick up at the supermarket.
And when do we get to show our customers, we know how to prepare food? Oh, I forgot. We get to decide which side of the cheesecake to place our little spring of mint on.”
“Why not let me do what I am trained to do? Give me the freedom to create true culinary specialities, not serve up some store-bought concoctions. I can create one for each day of the week, signature dishes of the Madison Avenue Grill, and guests will come back day after day to experience them.
Besides, if we prepare it ourselves, we can take advantage of the special buys and seasonal specials and increase value. I’m certain that with my unique creations on the menu, all it would take is a little marketing and expertise to bring people through the door and keep them coming back.”
“I know what keeps people coming back,” Marcus ventured.
“What about quality, Chef?” Anne asked. “How are our hundreds of cooks going to maintain quality for a recipe they prepare only once a week? How will servers be able to develop strong product knowledge? And how do we justify purchasing and storing specialised ingredients in all our locations for seven one-of-a-kind dishes?”
“You talk about marketing like it’s some kind of cure-all,” Jorge added, feeling his own temper rising. “Even if every one of your recipes was incredible, the fact is, that’s not what people are saying they want. What’s wrong with giving guests what they want?”
“I have to admit I have some concerns about profitability issues, as well,” Karen said.
Then, no longer able to put him off, she glanced up at her boos. Marcus Turner was poised on the edge of his seat, looking suspiciously as if he had something to add.
Marcus smiled broadly. “Finally, someone wants to hear my idea.” He leaned back in his chair, a faraway look filling his eyes. “As some of you may know, I recently spent a couple weeks fly-fishing in Maine.”
Jorge leaned over to Anne. “While we were up to our necks in extra work,” he whispered.
Marcus ignored him. “You know what they love in Maine?” He asked the selling. “Fresh Maine lobster. Now I know I’ve been out of operations for a while, but I can recognise a hit when I see one.”
Karen buried her head in her hands. “Fresh Maine lobster.”
“Exactly. Now, I hate to just jump in and give you the answer like this, but my instincts are telling me-“
“How do you suggest we get fresh Maine lobster to our units in Montana?” Anne asked. “Or, say, North Dakota?”
“And do you know what air delivery adds to the final price? We’d be talking 25 to 35 dollars for the lobster-“
“Well, the servers would love it,” Marcus interjected.
“-in restaurants with a check average of $6 for lunch and $12 for dinner who’s going to buy them?”
“Well, now, if marketing just did their job,” Marcus said, his voice trailing off.
“Marketing?” Jorge said, incredulously. “Marketing’s been telling you what people want, and it isn’t Maine lobster. Not in Las Vegas, not in Louisiana, and certainly not in London.”
“And what about storage? We’d need lobster tanks in every store.”
“We’d have to buy bibs, cookers, crackers…”
“We’d need to establish receiving procedures to process live animals.”
“Okay, okay,” Marcus said, his smile fading fast. “But if lobster’s definitely out of the question, where does that leave us? Assuming we have some truly workable ideas already on the table, how do we determine which is the right on of Madison Avenue Grill?”
DIIE Process Business Report
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