The movie 'Chef'We’re all creatures of habit, apparently, regularly ordering the same coffee, lunchtime sandwich or even dinner at a smart restaurant. But how annoyed would you be if your favourite item wasn’t available anymore? Would you just order something else, or feel that your day had been ruined?

A New York Times writer recently lamented the demise of her favourite sandwich at her regular lunch spot, fondly remembering her husband making a special trip to get one for her on Mother’s Day.

So, should regular customers feel they have some ‘ownership’ of the menu, and are they right to feel so aggrieved when it changes? No business can stand still, after all, and chefs – one of the most creative of professions – are always keen to expand and develop their repertoires.

Do the same rules apply to the chain restaurants, where menu refreshes are usually more commercially, than artistically, driven? With no shortage of sales and trend data, it’s more often the F&B Development Teams deciding what stays and what goes, rather than a highly temperamental chef.

Either way, menu updates are essential, but if they result in guest dissatisfaction, or worse still, the customer choosing to go elsewhere, how does a business manage it?

This is when Social Media can prove invaluable – allowing customers to get involved, gathering fast feedback and creating desire and demand. As a result of their social engagement strategy, McDonald’s has just announced the temporary return of the McRib sandwich.  Meanwhile, Mexican restaurant Wahaca is trialling their diners’ reaction to insects on the menu (crickets in melted cheese) with a hashtag Yes or No vote (a quick glance at Twitter suggests the Yes camp is winning). As well as satisfied customers, Social Media can provide great publicity, but like the best chilli sauce, is best used sparingly and genuinely (no-one really believed Heinz were going to discontinue their Salad Cream…)

The author of the NYT piece admits that the substitute dish is her new favourite – and that she never would have tried it while her previous go-to option was still available.

Restaurants at every level of dining generate loyal fans. But ultimately what they’re selling is an experience, which can become inextricably linked to a specific dish (or cocktail). And as we’re all creatures of habit, they mess with that at their peril.

If you need advice on how best to harness customer feedback, manage menu development or social media strategy, just get in touch.