Too many times we think that all that could be invented as already been invented, but time and time again we are proved wrong by the latest innovations. The vacuum cleaner had been around for more than 50 years when Dyson decided it was not happy with it's vacuum cleaner suction and he would then create one without a dust bag! On the other hand we don't always have to come up with earth shuttering new ideas to be innovative in our market, we can just copy someone else's idea and maybe put our twist on it to make it a little more personal. This is especially true if you are based in a smaller town where trends don't move as rapidly as in bigger cities, your competition is slower to react - or sometimes just doesn't care at all - and customers may have not heard of the latest trend yet or maybe just didn't have a chance to try a particular new dish.
Innovation keeps our menus fresh and our customers interested. The latter is especially true when your customer base is not particularly price sensitive and one way to get that extra order is to come up with specials that are "Instagrammable" and sound delicious. Innovation of course is very helpful to accumulate more followers on social media too.
In my case my restaurant is based in a small town, about 50 miles from London. A lot of people will commute to London for work but they will spend their weekends at home and eat locally. A great example of this is when I was watching "Gordon, Gino and Fred: Road Trip" and Gordon Ramsey went to this old pizzeria in Naples and asked to cook a sweet pizza. He put on it: Lemon Curd, creme fraiche and basil. My first thought was "how can we put an Italian twist on it? Why not use mascarpone cheese instead of creme fraiche?" This can work for many other dishes, you just have to ask yourself "how can I put a twist on it?"
Books like "The Flavor Bible" can help you work out what ingredients go well together and find some unexpected and surprising combos.
Nowadays is very easy to keep your hand on the pulse just by looking at Instagram, following hashtags that a relevant to you and your sector or type if cuisine, following accounts that feature a lot of creative ideas. Also let's not forget to go out, travel, discover and experience ourselves.
So install a note taking app on your phone or jot down your ideas. Set a time aside to experiment or make time before or after the service - or during if quiet. Don't be afraid to try, to tweak and try again.
Alan shares his experiences, struggles and tips to help other small restaurant operators.