The Courtyard Bistro has to be the fastest growing restaurant concept in the US. In three short years the concept has grown from a single hotel in Fairfax, Virginia to now nearly 160 nationwide, with a lot more opening every month. Building a concept of this size so quickly requires a great deal of attention by a team dedicated to the single idea of bringing life to the fabulous new lobby. Built around a core of quick breakfasts, refreshing salads, great sandwiches and shareable appetizers to pair with the pretty impressive bar, our menu development takes a great deal of time in our development kitchen. Countless taste panels, recipe fine tuning, and more tasting. That's fine, but it can't just be chefs tasting the food.
In July, we piloted a different approach to taste panels. Instead of the same 12 people, we invited a new group down from various departments in our corporate headquarters who had never been to a taste panel. Kathleen Wellington and Tom O'Gara, our development chefs led by Thomas Rebler, prepared a focus group styled taste panel for the upcoming Fall Bistro menu specials. This proved to be a great forum, and a lot of fun for the lucky invitees. Giving honest feedback, the group reviewed a creative breakfast oatmeal with an apple cinnamon crumble ("dessert for breakfast, love it!"), a couple of salads (the greek didn't do so well, but there was quite a bit of support for the BBQ Tortilla salad), and several sandwiches were sampled, analyzed, and dissected.
I found this to be a great way to get real feedback. Too often we as chefs do not ask the right people what they think, relying on experience or trend. The best measure is to hear directly what works for our guests, and making those small but important adjustments needed to perfect the idea. Chefs, if you want to know how your menu will work, look for an opinion outside of the kitchen first! You might find their suggestions really work!
Thanks to the success of the first Culinary Development Focus Group, we plan on doing this a lot more. Who knows, if you are in the area, maybe we can hear your thoughts as well!
What's on YOUR plate today? Mine, just honest opinions please.