Change and innovation are hot topics for restaurants right now. Innovating the menu, service, and the customer experience seem like great ways to grow your business. Change and innovation sound great, but if you don’t approach your efforts to change and grow in a strategic way, your new ideas could collide with your brand identity, work against your core value proposition, cannibalize your most profitable revenue streams, or alienate core customers.

The most common innovation missteps can be avoided by taking the time to address these four questions:

1. What’s the expected outcome?

Of course, all resulting ideas must align with your corporate business objectives, but it’s also important to identify which areas can be manipulated to reach the desired end. It’s essential to anticipate the expected outcome. Doing so doesn’t limit creativity; it allows for actionable results. For example, if your company’s stated business objective is to create a service experience that catapults yourself into a stand-alone category, your expected outcome could be everything from ideas for a more efficient checkout process to ideas for online service amenities. The expected outcome will become a baseline metric for every stage of your innovation initiative.

2. How far can we stretch?

Change sounds great, but if you don’t approach it in a strategic way, your new ideas could collide with your brand identity.

It’s critical to clearly articulate how far you’re willing to go as a brand and a business. What are you willing and able to change, and what areas should your team stay away from? If you identified ideas for wait staff service procedures as an expected outcome of your innovation initiative, for example, your scope needs to address issues such as the company’s willingness to change the way food is delivered to the table. How about the way a crewmember takes an order at the point of sale? Can you incorporate new technologies? Is it OK to add more people to the staff? Eliminate people? These are the kind of scope questions you need to ask up front to ensure your ideation sessions are focused on the possible.

3. What’s the evaluation criteria?

Some teams do all the right strategic groundwork upfront and have wildly productive ideation sessions. With hundreds of ideas, they find themselves overwhelmed. What next? How do you choose the strongest ideas? Unless your organization is able to immediately begin developing all of your ideas, you’ll need an additional filtering process. Establishing evaluation criteria upfront will help you take your ideas through a metric-driven filtering process that avoids the sometimes-arbitrary process of voting for favorites. While exact evaluation criteria vary for each organization, most restaurants will need to assess the idea’s brand fit, operational complexity, competitive differentiation, and revenue potential.

4. Who’s your corporate champion?

Many well-planned innovation and change initiatives have stalled at the very end of the process because they initially lacked C-level buy-in. You can avoid potential stalls early on in the planning stages by naming a senior-level person to act as the project “champion.” The champion’s role is to ensure corporate alignment in the beginning, at key milestones throughout, and at the final presentation. The champion will conduct regular check-ins on progress, give advice and direction on content, and work with the team to make sure the final recommendations are positioned for success. The champion plays a critical role when his or her senior-level decision makers begin to weigh in on the resulting recommendations, and this person should feel comfortable supporting the further development of new ideas.

Make sure you consider all four of these when considering change and growth. They will help ensure your ideas and innovations are building the kind of brand and experiences that keep consumers coming back.

Elizabeth Richwine is chief strategy officer at Leap Research & Innovation, a Pennsylvania firm specializing in innovation for products, services, and experiences.
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