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Serve Sustainable Seafood

Sustainable SeafoodSeafood is a wonderful delicacy that helps form the backbone of thousands of restaurants. Seafood is healthy and great tasting, and customers love treating themselves to seafood when they go out to eat.

Unfortunately, overfishing has increased exponentially in the last 25 years, resulting in the collapse of a full third of the world’s fisheries. Many more are in serious decline, and if fishing continues at the present rate, all of the world’s fisheries will be tapped out by 2050. In response, several organizations have started promoting sustainable seafood choices that harvest fishery populations in a responsible and sustainable way. Restaurateurs have also taken notice, and more and more restaurants are offering sustainable seafood on their menus.

To become a sustainable seafood restaurant, check out the resource guide published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for both restaurants and consumers. This resource identifies fisheries that are being harvested sustainably so that you can make buying decisions accordingly.

Also talk with your restaurant’s seafood distributor and work with them to bring sustainable seafood options to your market. Many distributors already offer sustainable options and if they don’t, they should, so let them know that as a customer you would like a sustainable seafood option for your business.

Another option is to buy farm raised fish and shellfish products.  One such species that has recently become available is the striped pangasius, a type of catfish native to southeast Asia that makes a great center-of-plate white fish for any restaurant.

The debate between environmental groups and commercial seafood farms over the impact of farm raised seafood still rages, and The Back Burner will be exploring those issues in future posts.

Choosing to be a  sustainable seafood restaurant doesn’t have to mean compromising on the menu choices you offer your customers. It is possible to continue to bring great seafood menu items in a sustainable way.

And don’t forget to tell your customers you serve sustainable seafood. This is a great marketing tool that lets customers know you care about environmental trends and makes them feel better about ordering seafood items from your menu.

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Menu Pricing’s Theory Of Relativity

Menu Pricing's Theory of RelativityIn a previous oldie-but-goodie Back Burner post I talked about menu engineering – how to put together a menu that effectively markets your dishes and makes customers want to spend more and buy high margin menu items.  One thing that post did not touch upon, however, was how to price and organize those prices on the menu.

Research has shown that organizing prices the right way can affect what customers order and what they consider to be a good deal, and often will encourage them to spend more in your restaurant.  How?  Call it the Theory of Relativity.  When someone looks at a menu, they will inevitably comparing prices.  If you’ve read the post I mention above, you have already helped the customer make an emotional rather than monetary attachment to the item they want to order by de-emphasizing the price altogether – removing the dollar signs, placing it below the description rather than by itself out to the side, etc.

Even so, people are going to compare prices.  That’s where the Theory comes in.  More often than not, customers will choose a middle-of-the-road option.  The trick is to define “middle-of-the-road” for your customer.  That’s why a smart restaurateur will create one entrée that is ridiculously expensive – absolutely and shamelessly high end.  You may never sell a single one, but it doesn’t matter.  That unaffordable entrée will give your customers a compass by which they will judge the rest of the menu.

The research shows that customers will pay more on average if they have a higher priced item to compare against.  Their perception of value changes the higher the number they are comparing against is.  This phenomenon was illustrated very well in a recent study that took a completely irrelevant number – the last two digits of the respondent’s social security number – and then asked participants to bid on different items for sale.  Those with social security digits in the upper 20% bid 200% – 300% more for items than those with digits in the bottom 20%.  Why? Because people innately base their perceived value for a product on the next relative number, whether it’s the last two digits of your social security number or a $25 prime rib.

That means you can price your bread-and-butter, high margin, best selling dishes a little higher and still convince your customer they’re getting a great value.  And you never know, someone just might order that high end entrée once in awhile, which won’t be bad for your bottom line at all.

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Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark?

That thing doesn't fit in my aquarium!

That thing doesn’t fit in my aquarium!

Sustainable seafood has become an increasingly important issue for restaurateurs as the green restaurant movement gains ground.  This is coupled with increasing evidence that the world’s wild caught seafood supply is in serious decline.

The result has been a renewed search for fish species that have the quality and taste characteristics worthy of center-of-plate presentation but can be farm raised in a sustainable manner.

Striped Pangasius, or Iridescent Shark,  is a type of catfish native to the tropical waters of Vietnam and Thailand.  Its hardy nature and delicious, flaky white meat has made it a favored source of food in Asia, Canada, and Europe.

The shark name originates from aquarium enthusiasts who keep young Pangasius in household tanks.  The young have an iridescent color that is lost as Pangasius grows older.  Full grown Pangasius in the wild can weigh as much as 97 pounds and grow to 4 feet in length.

Pangasius can tolerate low oxygen levels and high school concentrations.  They are very easy to farm (compared to tilapia or bangus) and disease resistant.  These characteristics also make it cheaper to buy than Tilapia, Cod, or Sole, yet the filets are of comparable quality.

Fishery Products International (FPI) recently announced they would begin to import Pangasius from Southeast Asia for sale in the U.S.  The fish is farm raised in Vietnam using sustainable practices overseen by the Vietnamese Ministry of Fisheries and a separate quality assurance group run by FPI.

Farm raised fish do have an environmental impact, especially concerning water usage and contamination, but in general that impact is far less than the further depletion of  wild fish populations through overfishing.

For years catfish farms in the U.S. resisted the importation of Pangasius because it competes directly with them in supplying the food industry.  In 2002, an Arkansas senator even sponsored legislation restricting the catfish name to fish grown in the United States.

No matter what you call it, Pangasius’ attractiveness comes from cheaper prices for a virtually identical product, and the volume in which it can be produced far exceeds the capabilities of the American catfish industry.

Chefs across the country have responded positively to Pangasius, especially after price comparisons show it is a great product for the price.  Look for the tropical catfish to start showing up on menus near you very soon.

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