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Customisation of Menu in India is Developing Vegetarian Menu: Mike Garcia, Pollo Tropical

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, Executive Chef, , a USA-based, Caribbean-inspired fast-casual restaurant chain, shares insights about menu planning and designing.

How was the menu for Pollo Tropical in India planned?
Pollo Tropical’s menu essentially offers grilled chicken, along with rice, beans, wraps etc. We always localise our menu in each international market to appeal to local consumers. We also introduced few dishes of chicken in their original recipe and few have been customised, which are little spicy to suit the Indian taste palate.

For India, customisation meant developing a vegetarian menu that had our Caribbean flavours, such as grilled paneer, marinated with our specialty citrus and Caribbean spices, and a number of India-specific dishes.As large chunk of the population here is vegetarian. So we have spent time in food testing and creating paneer-related dishes and platters in the same recipe as chicken for our vegetarian customers. In fact we had a soft launched our outlet initially for two months, which was for testing and trials of our paneer recipe.

We worked side-by-side with our franchisee, Paramount Cuisines, and our ingredient vendors in Delhi to develop the menu for India, and added them formally to our approved product library.

How does a restaurant decide to revamp its menu?

Today, menu development and revamping in international chains is an ongoing process. We are always looking at every item to ensure it is just right for consumers and current market. However, our signature items never change, but sometimes our processes do, such as when we developed a new way to marinate our chicken that made the marinade penetrate deeper and decrease wastage, leading to lowering costs and improved quality.

Menu revamp is the result of constant research into trends, new products in the marketplace, competition and customer feedback. It is the science of collecting data, researching food science, tabulating results and working with new pieces of equipment. It is an art as it involves interpreting the information available and creating new dishes that suits the concept and heritage of the brand.

How is menu pricing done?
Menu prices are based on the cost of the ingredients balanced with what the marketplace charges for similar items. So, it is cost of production in sync with market standards.

Menu prices need to reflect inflation and the underlying costs of doing business, which is the reality in any business. Adding new dishes, whether as limited time offer or as permanent menu offering, usually adds to sales by increasing our appeal.

How do you assess a menu revamp?
In case of a new menu, we always look to see how new menu items are performing in terms of number of units, sales, contribution to profit and in relation to the rest of the menu, as in if there are incremental sales, or if the new dishes are cannibalising the sales of other items. This takes time, as we need to see the data for a significant period after any revamp.

Why does a restaurant design or launch ‘limited edition’ and festival menu?
Well, limited time offer or LTO is something we try to do three or four times a year to keep consumers’ interest in the brand, fresh recall and to create and launch new products in the pipeline. We plan before every autumn, to have the next year’s product launch calendar in place i.e by the beginning of new year.

We at Pollo Tropical, work on the requests of our Indian franchise partners regarding festival-related promotions. As an international brand, it helps in creating a connect with the country and its traditions.

We have many items in our international menu, which were launched as limited time offers. In fact this is the way any international chain evolves its menu. However, there is a challenge – to do this without making a menu too complicated or too big. But with 26 years of experience, we understand what to add and what to remove.