Posted by Patrick Maness
People, especially in urban areas, are always looking to try new places to eat. But any restaurant owner knows that a business can’t survive off the initial buzz and excitement of the first opening weeks. In fact, a 2013 National Restaurant Association survey found that repeat customers make up 64 percent of sales at casual dining restaurants and 51 percent at fine-dining restaurants.
A small-plate menu offers a unique opportunity to create a base of repeat customers. And by their very nature, small plates align with a healthy lifestyle, featuring nutritious ingredients and lighter portions. Additionally, they entice your customers to experiment and return in order to try other offerings.
How it works
Think of small plates as samples. When people order a meal consisting of small plates, they are essentially ordering a number of samples, none of which, alone, would constitute an entire meal. Of all the dishes they “sample,” they will no doubt like some better than others; they may even find a favorite.
In short, a small-plate menu encourages people to try new things. Along the way, they find favorites that they’ll want to come back for.
Now, someone can find a favorite menu item at any restaurant, but the added appeal of a small-plates menu is that people can have their favorite food and still branch out and try new things before feeling too full.
The vibrancy of variety
Many cultures have small-plate offerings — call them snacks, appetizers, tapas, hors d’oeuvres, and so forth. In an America full of diverse cuisine, anything goes; you don’t need to be limited to what is traditionally considered a small-plate meal. And you shouldn’t.
In addition to featuring staple menu items, you should make it known that you also update your small-plates menu frequently.
One way to communicate that and create excitement is to host various nights dedicated to a particular type of small-plate menu. For instance, Tuesdays could be Thai and Fridays barbecue. Of course, it’s up to your chef to apply their creativity and add a twist to whatever theme or style you wish to serve. Another way to ensure variety in your offerings is to have seasonal menus.
Encourage the social aspect
Small plates are associated with drinking and conversation. The strong social component to the meal means that people often meet over small plates to catch up and spend time together, much like they do when grabbing a drink or meeting for coffee. As such, make sure to offer a variety of wine and beer in order to complement your customers' plates and to facilitate a relaxed social atmosphere.
Because small plates are meant to be shared among people, a dynamic menu combined with a sociable atmosphere will draw customers back and help your business thrive.
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