Chef Chatter: Shuckin’ Shack COO reveals science behind menu innovation | Chef Chatter
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By Bill Bartlett, COO, Shuckin’ Shack
Shuckin’ Shack isn’t your average oyster bar. Since being founded in 2007 as a 900-square-foot shack in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, we’ve made waves in the industry thanks to an innovative menu, high-quality food options and our focus on keeping up with industry trends.
To accomplish this, the Shuckin’ Shack team makes sure to go out and dine everywhere we possibly can. For example, our co-founder Matt Piccinin was recently in Costa Rica and saw a few food options he wanted to try. If we see a restaurant doing something interesting that could work at Shuckin’ Shack, we put our own twist on it to make it new and exciting.
|Bill Bartlett, COO, Shuckin’ Shack|
When it comes to menu innovation, we create items based on what our customers want and what is best for our franchisees. One recent example came from our crab cakes, which are filled with less filler than our competitors in order to better hold the cakes together. We were able to utilize this technique in three ways on the menu — the crab cakes, Crab Trap sandwich and crab cake balls. We like to make our menu and operations simplified enough for each restaurant to achieve consistency at their volume.
The Shuckin’ Shack team takes the process of adding new items to our menu very seriously. The six-month process starts with in-house brainstorming meetings to come up with ideas, followed by experimentation in the kitchen. Once we collectively decide a product is a potential winner, we test it by putting it on the “specials” menu in one to three stores in order to gauge guests’ feedback and tweak the product accordingly. Depending on its popularity, we’ll then either keep it as a special or move it to the full menu in all stores. New menu items we’ve had success with recently are the cold crab dip, greggah lobster roll with mustard sauce and our swing bridge shrimp burger with no filler.
In addition, seasonality plays a major part in rolling out new menu items. During the holidays and winter months, for example, we have a ton of delicious soups that people love. On Valentine’s Day, we bring in the fancy lobsters for couples, and for football season we offer sliders and do our unique version of “surf and turf” with wings.
Keeping up with consumer trends
On a larger scale, current consumer trends dictate many of our decisions. Lately, customer preference is moving from meat to seafood as consumers look for healthier options. Oysters have grown in popularity due to the vast variety of options and flavors. We’re also seeing a demand for smaller dishes, so our cravable starters have really been a hit, including the cold crab dip and the hangover fries — items people can share.
The seafood segment is relatively niche, so although we are competing with a smaller group of people, we want to be the leader in what we do. While innovation is important, above all, guests value high-quality food, so we make sure to simplify our operations and menu as much as possible to achieve that consistent, positive consumer experience across our network.
As opposed to the full-service restaurants rolling out high-tech POS platforms, we’ve put an emphasis on quality customer service over technology. We believe in the importance of genuine engagement with guests, and we continue to see loyal customers coming to sit at the bar and interact with our employees. Our guests feel like they’re going to the beach, with quality seafood in a comfortable environment.
Thanks to this high-quality consumer offering and menu innovation, Shuckin’ Shack has continued to expand throughout the U.S. We recently opened a restaurant in Ocala, Florida, which sold more in the first four days of operation than any other location. By simplifying our operations and keeping up with consumer trends, we are able to offer a unique and enjoyable guest experience across the country.