House-made menu items respond to customer demands and differentiate brands in a competitive market.

Sponsored by Vitamix.

Consumers are increasingly interested in knowing more about what’s in their food, which means restaurant operators and chefs are now faced with creating menus that highlight fresh ingredients and made-from-scratch accompaniments to dishes—including dips, dressings, sauces, and spreads.

“House-made always wins,” says Matthew Dugan, executive chef for the Vitamix test kitchen. “It can be difficult to find the skilled labor and enough time in the day. But that’s why it’s important to use ingredients and recipes that can be prepped with ease and efficiency.”

Dugan suggests focusing on a menu that provides fresh, flavorful foods to attract customers and develop a loyal base. He also urges chefs and operators to keep it simple.

“It’s a challenge to find a few core items that help a brand stand out among its competitors,” Dugan says. “But it’s much better to have a menu with five high-level dishes than a menu with 80 items that don’t stand out.”

Offering fresh foods can create operational complexity, however, requiring special storage and handling procedures. It is important for operators to implement proper staff training and updated processes to prevent slowdowns in the kitchen.

In addition to the challenge of teaching staff to handle and preserve fresh ingredients, it can be difficult for operators and chefs to find the time to prepare house-made menu items. Many successful quick-service brands have introduced high-performance blenders into their kitchens, cutting back on the time it takes to prepare fresh ingredients for a recipe—like chopping onions or garlic, or grinding spices.

“If you reduce prep time by just a few seconds, it can equate to millions of dollars for some companies,” Dugan says. “A maximum-efficiency blender can chop food or batch sauces in large quantities to cut prep time in half, in some cases.”

Improving kitchen processes to handle fresh foods and emphasizing fewer, yet better, recipes made from premium, natural ingredients can optimize the efficiency of a restaurant’s kitchen—and respond to consumer demand for increased transparency. With simpler menus, restaurants can also maximize the labor of skilled employees and stay competitive in the marketplace.

“Customers want to know their food is fresh,” Dugan says. “There are a lot of open-kitchen concepts now where you can see everything kitchen staff is doing: Are chefs just dumping ingredients out of a bag? Has the food been in a freezer for a long time? Where did it come from? If I have control over the ingredients, I can ensure patrons will remember their meal.”

Restaurants that incorporate the freshest ingredients possible into menu offerings and create signature, house-made products reap the benefits—better back-of-house operations, improved time management, a high-quality end product, and ultimately, more satisfied customers.

By Erin McPherson

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