The World of Restaurant Consulting
The language of restaurant consulting is a cold, dry, semi-clinical thing. We talk about the menu as an “offering,” eating periods are divided into “dayparts,” chicken and steak are lumped together as “proteins,” rye bread and lettuce cups are “carriers.” “Fresh finishes” and “textural value-adds” make a dish camera ready. Writing a new menu—the purpose of the Create Phase—relied on this lingo.
But the highest compliment you could ever pay a chain is to call its food “craveable.” It was a word we threw around in the office a lot, and everyone had a different definition: “Taste sensations.” “Umami bombs.” “Food you can’t stop eating.” “Flavor orgasms.” Craveability inhered in crispy bacon, the ether of truffle oil, the way that the caramelized exterior of a kouign amann crumbled and melted in the heat of one’s mouth, succumbing to the buttery softness underneath.
If craveability fueled the appetite, empathy coded the experience. An “empathetic menu” allowed the businessman a quick start to his day; the mom to feed her kids something she felt good about; the college student to nurse his hangover; the teenager an Instagram story. Serving food in a bowl instead of a plate was empathetic because it felt warm and nourishing and pleasantly symmetrical, like being back inside the womb. Even putting General Tso’s chicken on a menu was empathetic because it was many Americans’ first experience with what they believed to be “Chinese” food, and in its rich and unctuous flavors, we were assured that everything would be okay.
From “The Weird Science Behind Chain Restaurant Menus” by India Mandelkern for Munchies; Illustration by Adam Waito (@adamwaito)
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