Any good restaurant needs a refresh once in a while, whether to keep up with the newest consumer tastes and preferences, modernize operations or take advantage of developments in technology.

No refresh is more public than an update of a restaurant’s menu. When Taco Bell adds breakfast offerings, it makes national news; when DB Bistro Moderne in New York sells a $100-plus burger with foie gras and black truffles, glossy magazines run profiles of the chef and the creation.

Everyone is looking for their Doritos Locos Tacos. And they should be.

A signature item can draw new customer trials and build loyalty among fans; it can build sales and provide priceless word-of-mouth marketing; and it can breathe life into a brand and satisfy consumers’ need for “craveable” items. The evolution of a restaurant’s menu is arguably its most important undertaking. Months and sometimes years of research are completed, countless consumer panels are held, and test markets are studied. And even then it takes a bit of luck to have a hit.

So how do restaurants win? They build offerings unapologetically around their customers’ wants and their specific brand promises.

Nobody does this better than this year’s MenuMasters award winners. We introduce the best in the business of menu R&D, presenting dishes that struck a chord with customers — and the culinary minds behind them. What you’ll find in the breakdowns of the winning dishes is a clear recipe for success (sorry, I couldn’t resist): a laser-like brand focus, smart sourcing of quality ingredients and creative vision. 

It’s not just restaurants that need continual evolution. All businesses today need constant tweaks to their models and changes to their products. Nation’s Restaurant News is no exception, and we’ve undertaken two major changes to keep our offerings fresh:

• We've reconceptualized our Forefront section, which has always given our audience a quick take on the industry’s news, people, menu additions and fun facts. It was admittedly growing a bit clunky and text-heavy, however, filled with news we know our audience already gathered at NRN.com. To liven up these pages, we built a new section filled with a quick roundup of trending news, data snapshots, useful facts and a bold presentation of new menu items. It provides at a glance what you need to know to stay informed and ahead of the curve. NRN’s art director Joe Anderson and production editor Vanessa Van Landingham led this update, and they used the same building blocks of winning restaurant menu development: a laser-like brand focus on NRN audience needs, smart sourcing of quality content ingredients and creative vision.

• We have also rebuilt the NRN Social 200, the industry’s most dynamic look at restaurant chain social media activity and performance. Reconceptualized with new partner Sprinklr, the new NRN Social 200 is a complete overhaul from the earlier version of the ranking platform, and now accounts for consumer engagement, sentiment and earned impressions, among other metrics. The only index monitoring activity on a daily basis, the NRN Social 200 is the industry benchmarking tool to watch. 

Like any good restaurant seeking customer feedback on their menus, NRN wants your opinions. I hope to hear from you.

Contact Sarah E. Lockyer at sarah.lockyer@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @slockyerNRN.