Merging retail concepts and ideas with menu merchandising into unique food venues is an effective way to increase food sales and drive additional retail sales. Open kitchens, fresh meats, finished desserts, raw bars and satay grills are examples of merchandising the menu. Retail displays of logoed merchandise such as T-shirts, key chains and the like at foodservice stations has long had a place in branded operations such as the Hard Rock Café or Planet Hollywood. But these items are not integral to the actual foodservice operation. So the challenge for foodservice operators is to integrate food and retail merchandising into other styles and levels of service to further enhance their competitive edge. Doing so will attract new customers and keep loyal ones because merging food and retail adds more choice and entertainment to the customers' experience – therefore building a competitive edge.

Using a combination of sight and smell adds to the effectiveness of food merchandising. These are not new ideas; rather, how we apply them in venues ranging from markets to small specialty restaurants makes the difference between ho-hum and dazzling foodservice operations.

I am always looking for new ways to make a foodservice operation's menu stand out. Is there a better way for the restaurant's appearance to reflect the menu? How a foodservice operator answers questionslike these drives the design. For example, dim sum is exciting because of the presentation: The dim sum baskets are cut into the stainless-steel cover of the steam bath that keeps them warm.

What is it that allows for the successful integration of foodservice and retail? What makes this more than just another foodservice concept? What process can be applied to achieve the desired results? There are many ways to achieve success. The following eight-step process works best for me.

Step 1: Investigate

Ask questions, questions and more questions. Determine what is unique about the menu that the foodservice operator can merchandise and sell in a retail setting. Is it the stone bowl in which the signature dip is served? Or the glass items on which you present your specialty desserts? The key skill when doing an investigation is “listening” for the answers. There is a world of difference between listening and hearing.

Step 2: Understand the Operation

Spend some time observing all aspects of cooking, serving, prep, etc. This process provides a unique perspective into the foodservice operation's values, strengths and weaknesses. In the case of a foodservice operation that has yet to open, this step is more of a virtual exercise best done by walking through all the facility's functions.

Step 3: Think Outside the Kitchen

No idea is too extreme, so list all the various concepts that might be developed. Review the list of concepts with the internal staff, contractors and the like, discussing the pros and cons for each idea. For example, an interesting concept to suggest is a revolving glass dessert display that features whole cakes and pies for sale. This could include retail elements such as designer plates on which the desserts are served.

Another retail concept is using a new vertical rotisserie instead of the more traditional horizontal units. When considering something different like this, it's important to understand the effort required to bring an idea to completion. Some ideas can be done with millwork and minimal finishes with minimal cost impact, while others may require hundreds of thousands of dollars to fully develop.

Step 4: Express Your Thoughts with Passion

The passion of an idea is a direct measure of its potential success. Knowing an idea inside and out will give you the confidence to express your passion. For instance, developing a new style of revolving grill with a domed grate and center burner is great. But if you can accessorize it with an open meat display from which customers make selections and observe the complete cooking process, then you have a complete thought that is described with passion and can be imagined.

Step 5: Develop the Concepts

When designing the concept, develop detailed sketches and add the retail items into the sketches to make sure they fit. The last thing you want to do is develop a cool niche to hold a specific item and find later that it does not fit.

If part of the concept is the presentation of bulk retail items in the front of a service counter, it is extremely important to know what items the shelves will hold. Are there any special utilities required, exhaust hoods or special conditions? If so, know how they are integrated into the design and the constructability.

Step 6: Test the Concepts

Share the concept development plans with another foodservice professional to get feedback. With that step complete, test your concept to ensure it is well planned and thought out - utilizing three-dimensional modeling is a very good method. Sometimes, accommodating specific issues in a concept requires building a model to fully convey the operational challenges. For example, a counter that is wide enough to support retail items may be too deep to pass food over. Testing a concept will prevent a good deal of the unexpected crises later.

Step 7: Document the Concepts

Providing the project team with the required information about such matters as the size of utilities and where they should be located within the concept are very important. All the required dimensional factors need to be stated to ensure the proper construction of the concept.

Step 8: Implement the Concepts

Make sure all the mechanical items work. For example, have the client's staff use the revolving grill and check that the burners in the grill are properly calibrated.

In order to maximize the foodservice operator's investment, it is important to find ways to reduce the kitchen footprint and utilize more efficient equipment. This approach helps foodservice operators focus their investment to enhance revenue potential. The more efficient a design, the more cost effective the operation.