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Executive Chef Ype Solicits Extensive Feedback from Customers to Shape the Summer Menu
Silver Diner’s Executive Chef Ype Von Hengst recently announced that he will undertake major menu revisions to the Silver Diner menu. “It was ten years ago that we extensively changed menu items and implemented a large number of farm-to-table items. This year, we will shorten the menu to increase quality and add new items including more brunch items,” said Von Hengst. Silver Diner has made changes along the way including the addition of vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and lower calorie items but the entire menu has not been edited this drastically in ten years. All of these changes have been a big success with customers so Von Hengst is evaluating each current item on the menu and will remove those that are low sellers.
“We’ve learned from our research on the industry trends and from our customers that shorter menus with higher quality food are more popular,” Von Hengst added. The Silver Diner executive team takes regular food trips to specific areas of the country—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc. Recently, they traveled to LA where they spent three days at the most popular restaurants evaluating their menus and speaking with owners, wait staff and diners. “Through these trips we get a good sense of new trends that are working,” Von Hengst explained.
Silver Diner and Von Hengst have always had a very complicated and thorough process for adding new menu items. Customer input is extremely important to the end result so the restaurant takes three-four weeks and tests approximately thirty new menu items with customers. That testing period is taking place now at the Rockville flagship restaurant and will continue throughout the month of January and will then move to the Arlington location.
The process includes putting six to seven items a week onto a special menu card. Guests can then order the menu items and, if they do, they’re asked to complete a questionnaire card. Wait staff, managers, kitchen staff and Von Hengst walk around and speak with customers who have ordered the new menu items. Von Hengst takes the customer feedback to heart. “In some cases, I’m able to go back into the kitchen and make a few tweaks to an item by the next day,” he said.
Items being tested this month and next include acai yogurt bowls, brunch items, stir fry, and new salads and sandwiches. As a diner, Silver Diner has customarily served breakfast all day. Now customers want more sophisticated breakfast items that lean themselves more towards brunch. “In doing our research and in talking with our customers, these items are some of the things they’ve asked for,” Von Hengst added.
In adding new items, old items have to be eliminated. Von Hengst’s goal is to shorten the Silver Diner menu fifteen to twenty percent. He’s in the process of evaluating the “bottom dwellers”—those low-selling items that are not popular. The goal is to have six to eight new menu items on the Silver Diner summer menu. Creating a summer menu in January and February is a tough challenge, especially for items that will have fresh summer ingredients. Von Hengst prepares the dishes the best he can knowing that, once they’re on the menu in the summer, he’ll have the available local produce to make them better.
Some of the items include miso glazed cod over stir fried cauliflower with Asian flavors. (The cauliflower is riced and stir fried so that it can easily be mistaken for rice.) Icelandic yogurt will be introduced as a bowl with locally made crunchy cereal, blueberries, acai, bananas, hemp seeds and yogurt. Mediterranean avocado hummus will have special Moroccan spices.
Each evening, Von Hengst studies the ballot cards submitted by his test audience—the public who rate the dishes on quality, portion, size, value and popularity. If the dish does not rate a five, then Von Hengst always asks, “what would it take to be a five?” If there are immediate changes that he thinks will make it better, he makes them and takes it back to his test audience the next day.
Silver Diner has been menu testing this way for the past twenty-five years but they only perfected the process over the past ten. Through emails to regular customers, they promote when the testing is being held and customers flock to the restaurants to order the items. They have gained a large following for the testing. “Through this menu method, our regular customers feel especially engaged with us and they are. They are critical to our menu creation,” Von Hengst stated.
To learn more about the menu tastings, dishes being tested weekly and how you can participate, visit www.silverdiner.com.