Posted on September 16, 2011 - by

Sustainable restaurant realities: If it won’t sell, we can’t offer it

Today’s guest writer is Johanna Kolodny, the forager for Print Restaurant in Manhattan, discussing the challenges of getting customers to try unfamiliar seafood in restaurants.

Variety may be the spice of life, but at Print we tend to stick to the same fish, which include but are not limited to snapper, halibut, black sea bass, and salmon. At any one time, we have two if not three fish entrees on the menu. The chef continues to buy these fish because they sell. Don’t get me wrong, these are delicious choices, but I’d like to introduce new options to our menu. By diversifying the seafood that we eat, there is less danger that any one species will be overfished.

Some of the fish that I’ve offered the chef include flounder, hake, haddock, pollack, Gulf of Maine rockfish, bluefish, and sheepshead, but he has rejected these options. I think he believes they won’t sell, hence he’s not taking a chance. The chef once bought golden tilefish and it barely sold, so he said he’d never buy it again. In the end, I can’t really blame him because this is a business. He’s tried amberjack and triggerfish several times, but they were also not very popular. And from personal experience, I can tell you that these fish all tasted absolutely divine.

I suspect there are two reasons customers don’t buy these fish. The first is that they’ve never heard of it. Secondly, people think of these fish as being “lower grade.” At least these are my best guesses. The chef would buy practically any fish as long as it sold (not including endangered or threatened species), but I’m having a hard time figuring out how to convince the chef that these fish will sell and then actually following through with my promise. Waitstaff education is definitely key, but what else can I do? Or perhaps I’m not offering the proper education? I do repeatedly tell the staff that they can always seek me out to ask any questions.

When eating at other restaurants, I wonder how they sell the fish that either don’t sell at Print or that the chef is hesitant to buy? What is their selling strategy? Do they even have to push the dishes? Who are their customers? And how do we get those customers to our restaurant? Not only do I want people who have more open minds and are adventurous, but I also want to change customers’ perceptions about a fish they might not otherwise eat. These are just some of the questions that I think about daily.

How do you decide to order something new at restaurants? For me, when I go to a restaurant that I either like or anticipate I’ll enjoy, I trust that the chef won’t serve something that isn’t scrumptious. So, every menu item is fair game. Of course, mood and cravings do play a role in one’s choices. However, if I’m in the mood for seafood, then I am willing to try any of the three fish on the menu, for instance. So the next time you are dining out and see an unfamiliar fish on the menu, don’t be shy, ask the staff some questions, and give the dish a shot. You never know, you may have just discovered your new favorite food.

For more information on Johanna Kolodny’s work as a forager, check out the Print Restaurant blog: http://www.printrestaurant.com/blog/

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    September 16, 2011

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    Erica said:

    Maybe people don’t want to spend money on a seafood dish to find out they don’t like it at all and can hardly swallow down a couple bites? I think people tend to stick with what’s familiar too, especially when ordering at a restaurant. Personally, I would try anything but in this economy I don’t want to pay for something I might not like and be stuck with it or waste it. So, I stick with what I already know I like. I don’t want to have to pay to taste try something, you know?



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    September 16, 2011

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    Becca said:

    I agree with Erica, eating out is already a luxury, wants to pay a fortune for something you may not like. Could you offer it as a free sample/appetizer? Your wait staff could say.something like ” to prevent overfishing and promote sustainability, our restaurant is offering some new fish, could I offer you some to try before.you place your order? ” if they truly taste good, many people will order them!



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    September 16, 2011

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    Becca said:

    P.s.: it is the women you want to appeal to, women are at least twice as likely to try sonething new, especially a fish!



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    September 16, 2011

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    Tina Wise said:

    Why not try sample nights, pick a night and offer samples of new fish. Have your customers participate in picking new additions to the menu. Advertise samples night, make it a draw item for slow nights and/or a surprise for busy nights. My favorite wine choice comes from just such a strategy.



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    September 16, 2011

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    FishWise said:

    I agree with the author – I trust the chef! I am always excited to try new seafood items, variety is the spice of life!



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    September 27, 2011

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    Angela Treat Lyon said:

    The answer lies in the description the waiter gives as he announces the dish special. He (or she) needs to give the title of the dish (Spicy Triggerfish Creole, for instance) and then describing how tender it is, if it’s a light flakey white fish or heavy, red, sea fish – and when you sell the chef the fish, you can give him suggestions like that that he can use so he doesn’t have to do a lot of thinking about it. Obviously you don’t tell him how to cook it or what dish, you just suggest ways OTHERs have done it. It’s all about the words and how they are presented – from the chef to the waiter to the customer.