When I travel for the magazine, no matter what city I'm in, I almost never go back to a restaurant I've visited before. I'm constantly looking for new stuff, whether it's a hot, upstart restaurant or cool chef who's making a big splash. Over the years, I've fallen in love with a ton of restaurants I'd gladly revisit, but duty calls.
Back on my own turf, I do return to favorite restaurants quite a bit. But I rarely order the same menu item twice. I simply want to try everything, and if menu specials are presented, then fugetaboutit regular menu, I'm going with some fresh, new offering out of the kitchen. Some may call me fickle; I'd like to think I'm adventurous. But that's me.
There are legions of other people who only go to their favorite restaurant and order their favorite dish. Period! I was with one such person recently at his favorite restaurant when he refused to look at the menu. He knew exactly what he wanted because it's the same dish he's ordered there a thousand times — braised short ribs over mashed potato puree. But life, like on this occasion, doesn't always cooperate. The chef had grown weary of making my friend's favorite item, which had been on his menu for the last seven years. “I'm so tired of seeing and making that dish,” the chef told me later. “I've got so many new items I want them to try.”
My friend was crushed and went crazy, causing a scene and nearly making the server cry. Normally, he's a quiet, gentle guy, but someone messed with his braised short ribs and his world had crumbled.
You know exactly what I'm talking about. You probably have lots of customers who are slaves to a particular dish on the menu. Maybe you have several menu items that have their share of fanatics. In any case, how do you handle these menu items and the customers who love them? Do you never remove a favorite item from the menu? Is it that simple?
I have a feeling that some of you may not have been as thoughtful as you should have been about putting these gotta-have items on the menu in the first place. And I mean that from the standpoint of food costs. They may be fan favorites, but these menu items generate very little profit. But customers are hooked, and they don't want to see the item go away. Do you abide by their demands or your accountant's?
I do know of some restaurants that have fan-favorite menu items that are no longer on the menu. But for those in the know, the item can be ordered by discreetly asking your server. It's a benefit of being a regular. But the average Joe won't see it on the menu and won't order it. That may be one way to go. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you deal with long-lived, wildly popular menu items, whether they're proftable or not. For most these items may be no problem at all. I'll share the best of your thoughts and strategies on our Letters page.