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Foodservice Survey: Menu this
SFB bienniel foodservice survey shows challenges with menuing seafood
By Lauren Kramer
December 01, 2012
At the end of the day, if a seafood buyer can’t get the product he or she needs, then it’s time to consider other species or other proteins (gasp!) to put on the menu. As we examined the results of SeaFood Business’ biennial foodservice survey, it was evident that many restaurateurs and operators share similar concerns and challenges relating to sourcing, pricing and sustainability. These challenges have not changed much since we started surveying buyers more than 30 years ago. To see the graphs illustrated for this article, visit our ePub.
“One of the most common questions we field is about salmon and the difference between wild and farm-raised,” says Bill Bayne, president and co-founder of Fish City Grill in Addison, Texas. His restaurants menu both and his managers are focusing on educating diners on where their seafood comes from.
“People like to know about the origin of their food, both from a quality standpoint and from pure curiosity,” he says. The restaurants feature chalkboards that highlight up to eight fish each day, referring specifically to their origins.
At the Rose Villa Restaurant in Akron, Ohio, diners want to know how fresh their seafood is, says Domenic Fana, president.
“We mention where our seafood is from and the date when it was harvested, especially for the shellfish,” he says. “If it has been previously frozen, we’ll let them know that, as well.”
If you’re serving crab close to crab packing houses like Rich Evanusa does at Beach to Bay Seafoods in Princess Anne, Md., you have to make sure it’s local.
“On the Eastern Shore, people do not want to be buying imported, pasteurized crabmeat,” he says. Evanusa has established relationships with particular watermen and says he’s willing to pay a premium to maintain his quality standards.
Rising prices for seafood have become challenging for restaurateurs, and many have been reluctant to raise their menu prices for fear of losing their customers. The last time SeaFood Business surveyed foodservice buyers in 2010, 48 percent of respondents said their menu prices were increasing, but this year that number rose to 67 percent, with the majority citing increased wholesale prices as the reason.
“It’s hard to make money in our market here,” says Fana. “Some fish are $20 per pound, and it’s hard to menu that product. Instead, we’ll look for special catches of the day or species that aren’t as popular, and try to educate customers about them. For example, instead of using a sea bass, we’ll use a different fish at a cheaper price with a similar flavor profile.”
Bayne agrees that just being able to provide affordable, fresh seafood for diners at Fish City Grill is challenging. “Availability is there but the prices are rising. Sometimes we take those price increases on the chin a bit and sometimes we raise prices on other things, like desserts and drinks, to compensate,” he says.
In July 2011 Fish City Grill increased prices of certain items on the menu by 50 to 75 cents for the first time in two years. Fish tacos, for example, went from $8.99 to $9.49, “but it didn’t make a difference in terms of how many of those items were sold,” Bayne says.
Rose Villa Restaurant also raised its menu prices in the past three months to keep its margins. Some items, including beef and seafood dishes and some desserts, went up by 10 to 12 percent, as compared to usual price increases that tend to be in the 3 to 4 percent range.
“But we’ve also limited the size of our menu and put more features on special,” says Fana. “That way we can offer a market price and adjust the price faster on items whose prices tend to fluctuate than by having to print a new menu.”
Evanusa recently raised his menu prices too, the first time in 18 months, but it was something he had to do because of operating costs. “Electricity prices have skyrocketed and between that and insurance costs, we had to increase our menu prices by about 10 percent,” he says.
“The challenge of operating is deciding, can you raise prices to the point where a consumer can still afford to purchase them? Our watermen need a certain amount of money to harvest the product because of fuel and insurances, so they need to sell to us at a certain price. And we can only afford to raise our price to a certain degree before our customer says ‘no.’”
One thing customers appear to be saying yes to is an increasing variety of seafood species on restaurant menus. Up to 34 percent of survey respondents said they were menuing more seafood this year than last year. Fish City Grill is one of them, offering more and varied farmed and wild species today than in years past. It’s also among many restaurants that are introducing more seafood-topped pastas and salads on their menus.
“We add items like these to our chalkboards as specials of the day,” says Bayne. “It’s what our customers want, and dishes like these generate a higher margin per serving than other seafood items.”
For someone like David Cortes, assistant strategic sourcing manager for MGM Resorts International global procurement, the quantity of seafood being sourced for MGM’s many foodservice operations makes pricing a little easier. “For some items we do a deal for a period of time and that way we can show positive savings,” he says. “But sometimes, spending more money is beneficial in terms of getting a better product.”
For MGM, sourcing from companies that have a proven record of sustainability and environmental friendliness is increasingly a priority. “It’s more important for some restaurant outlets than others, but as a corporation we’re trying to be as sustainable as we possibly can,” Cortes says.
The 22nd SeaFood Business foodservice survey was conducted online in September and October. Respondents comprised one of four categories: independent restaurants (57 percent), institutional foodservice (21 percent), chain (19 percent) and B&I (3 percent). They were located in the Northeast United States (33 percent), South/Caribbean (32 percent), Midwest (17 percent), Pacific (17 percent) and Canada (1 percent).
To see the graphs illustrated for this article, visit our ePub.
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer writes our monthly Behind the Line column