Train your staff to handle a discontinued menu item
I walked into one of my favorite lunch spots, eagerly anticipating a mouthwatering wrap that is perfect to stave off an afternoon food coma. Without even glancing at the menu, “I’ll have the spinach wrap,” I say. Only to hear a cheerful response of “I’m sorry. We no longer carry that item.” My bewildered pause prompted her to politely offer an alternative. “I know it’s not the same but people really love our new salad option. It’s light and fresh. Doesn’t it look delicious?” she says, pointing to a photo of the salad on the menu board.
Well done! Well done! I ordered the salad and it was indeed delicious.
There are social accounts and Web sites dedicated to foodies’ favorite discontinued menu items. Some people are so passionate about their affinity for a discontinued menu item that they launch social campaigns to bring back their favorite food. Removing menu items are often inevitable but it’s not something to be taken lightly. There are a number of ways to communicate to customers that you’ve discontinued an item. Here are a few:
- Remove the item from all menus and marketing. It’s costly to change permanent menu boards; print, web and social menus; signage and marketing but continuing to promote a discontinued item leads to confusion and does not represent a restaurant well.
- Prepare for a reaction. The fact is someone loved that pizza or dish. Even if you only sold 10 of an item a week, there’s a chance that a few people could be surprised or saddened by the loss of their favorite dish. A dismissive server could cost your pizzeria a regular diner.
- Listen. The customer may just want to revel on the first time they tried that pizza, mourn it and move on. If their discontent goes further, it’s time for the server to step up.
- Ask what the customer liked most about the dish or why it’s special to them. This will give your staff insight to be able to keep that customer.
- Be ready with alternatives. Listening will pay off when your staff offers alternatives based on how the customer’s response. Don’t put your staff in the position to have to come up with something on the spot, though. During shift meetings, let your staff know of the menu change and brainstorm the dish’s flavor profile and comparable menu items. Train staff to not just offer the alternative, but also provide its story, unique ingredients or why it was given a particular name.
- If all else fails, think secret menu. If you have all of the ingredients to make a discontinued item and there are few fans that “gotta have it”, make it and let them know that you are making it special for them. Not only does it keep a regular happy, but it shows how loyal you are to them in return.
Go above and beyond for a frequent diner. After all, they are your champion and market for you. Handle a discontinued item well and they will share the story of why their favorite pizzeria is the best and how it has the most caring employees.
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