October 5, 2017
from Chef George Sideras
Soups have been an integral part of menus since the beginnings of the first restaurant. In fact, the word ‘restaurant’ is a derivation of the French word, ‘restaurer’ which means ‘to restore’. The original restaurants in France oftentimes were humble enterprises that served soup to restore one’s vigor and quell hunger pangs until more hardy offerings could be obtained. Today, soups are a great way to restore profitability to your bottom line.
As many readers are aware, soups have a reputation of involving tremendous amounts of resources and inputs. At one time that was indeed true. Soup and its kin, sauces, required extensive time and labor to produce. A cursory review of turn of the century cookbooks will yield handy tips like, “have your butcher deliver meaty soup bones and boil for several hours to provide a rich and hearty broth.” And that’s just the start. The amount of mincing, slicing, and straining seems overwhelming today. It’s no wonder operators shy from implementing an in-house soup program.
Operators who don’t have a soup program in place may be reluctant to start a ‘kitchen-made’ program. But I can tell you even a simple program can pay dividends. To start, many diners will ask if the soup du sour is “kitchen made”, which can be a hallmark of quality. According to Datassentials*, 1 in 3 patrons are willing to pay up to 5% or more for items menued as ‘house-made’. Fortunately, a minimal investment in equipment and raw materials can have your in-house program up and running. Here’s a few best practices to help launch your own in-house soup program:
Tip 1: Start small. Find that one soup that you love and make it your own. Have your staff suggestively sell it. Feature it each daily to build a following and repeat business.
Tip 2: Use quality ingredients. It’s a myth that great soups are thrown together from leftovers and kitchen scraps. Quality ingredients insure quality soups. Don’t pinch pennies in the BOH. You’ll sacrifice dollars in the long-run.
Tip 3: Find something familiar and give it a twist of your own. Patrons are more willing to try something new if they view it as ‘safe experimentation’. There are hundreds of soups to choose from—but if you are looking for suggestions, check out this blog on the 10 mostly commonly menued soup varieties.
The key is to find a way to put your stamp on it. Start by evaluating ways to add depth of flavor. Sure, chicken noodle soup is good—but what if you added a touch of Herb de Provence Flavor Concentrate and called it French Country Peasant soup? Everybody loves butternut squash soup, but what if you added a bit of coconut milk and red Thai curry paste? Soup can be a springboard to unleash your creativity.
Another benefit of soup is its ability to transcend menu parts. A tomato bisque with mini grilled cheese sandwich bites could be menued for lunch, dinner or appetizer. With snacking on the rise, soup satisfies as a smaller meal that’s both versatile and flavorful—as in bean soup with crispy pork skins. Make it fun, and use your creativity to signaturize the experience. Sprinkle seasoned popcorn over chicken noodle soup and see how your customers react.
Tip 4: Have an established recipe for your staff, along with benchmarks and indictors of how you are going to judge quality. How thick should the soup be? What’s the ideal ratio of broth to vegetables? What is the proper serving temperature? By clearly establishing guidelines and corrective measures your ‘kitchen-made’ soup can be a real profit center.
Tip 4: Encourage the waitstaff to sell soup and call it out on the menu. It’s far easier to get incremental dollars from current customers than acquire new customers. The secret is to build check averages one dollar at a time. The gross profit margin on soup can be very attractive.
Once you have established a signature soup you can begin to expand your offerings a little at a time. Seasonal LTO’s are one way to manage this process. They imply fresh ingredients and limited availability. At peak harvest key ingredients can be more affordable and easier to source.
Sources: * Datassentials Consumer Trends Report, 2016 2 Datassential Soup Survey, 2017