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Optional dining

Some restaurants now offer their customers the option to customize their food orders. Find out how it works.
By Joyce Roque |
Optional dining

Don’t underestimate the power of choice. A menu that gives customers control over their meals translates to an enjoyable dining experience—and better sales. No wonder food establishments are offering more versatility on their menu through DIY (do-it-yourself) or custom meals.

“I think {offering} custom meals is not just a trend, but a response to diners becoming more knowledgeable about food and what they are willing pay for. Many would like to feel empowered when making food choices,” says Joanne Limoanco-Gendrano, executive chef at Unilever Food Solutions.

At the newly opened The Butcher Shop and Pub along Bonifacio High Street, diners say it’s liberating to be able to choose what they want with their steaks. The restaurant and bar inspired by London butcheries and back-alley pubs has a Make Your Own Steak option that lets you pick everything from the type of meat, to the rubs and brush-ons, to the salads and sides. The idea is to give customers options, says Raj Bay, the pub’s marketing consultant. The Butcher Shop displays the day’s prices for its steaks. The price and items change depending on availability and weight.

Manam Express, found at food courts in malls, is another food business that allows you to put together your own one-price-fits-all combo meal. Each of its Kumpleto meals can be customized to your liking, from the Pinoy viands, the special rice (say, tinapa or bagoong rice), the side dishes, down to the drink and dips.

optional_dining_2.pngAbba Nappa, co-founder of the Moment Group, which owns Manam Express and its sister-concept Q-Daddy BBQ, says that “customizing a diner’s meal always takes a little bit longer to prepare than a ‘set meal’ but, in the end, we find that diners are willing to wait a little bit longer to get exactly what they want.”

Still, Nappa cautions that for this type of business, there should be a solid supply chain management system in place, as well as relentless forecasting of what dishes and ingredients will be in demand.

For restaurant owners thinking of offering the custom option, Limoanco-Gendrano says preparation is vital. “Is the kitchen able to accommodate these changes? Is the front of house staff able to respond to these food choices efficiently without causing delays or confusion, leaving customers dissatisfied? Can your food cost cover this new ordering option?”

Naturally, this strategy may not work for all types of food businesses. But for some, custom meals just make sense for the kind of items they offer, not to mention the crowd they cater to.

Photos: The Butcher Shop and Pub; Manam Express


This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of Entrepreneur magazine. Subscribe to the print or digital version here.  

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