Change the menu or fall behind
If you’ve ever had your favorite dish taken off the menu, you’ll know how Post Independent editor Randy Essex felt when he discovered White House Pizza had nixed its caramel apple bake.
You might also sympathize with local photographer and tax preparer Craig Silberman who, when a waitress at Chang Thai didn’t even know what a larb salad was, looked up the recipe and sent it to them.
Despite — or perhaps because of — being a seemingly petty problem, it stings when a restaurant decides your favorite dish isn’t worth keeping.
It may even be the primary allure of the restaurant, or at least the reason you dropped in.
Silberman didn’t let the incident ruin his day.
“It led to us ordering something we’ve not tried there before, so that’s a good thing, but it was disappointing,” he observed. It might be a different matter, he observed, if Smoke stopped smoking brisket or the Red Rock Diner discontinued its breakfast burrito.
That seems unlikely, since most restaurants don’t drop their most popular items.
White House Pizza, for instance, makes its decisions more or less mathematically.
“We run a report for the last two years, and it tells us how much of that item we’ve sold,” explained manager Jake Behlow. “We take the bottom 5 percent, and that’s what we get rid of.”
With the caramel apple bake outsold 10 to 1 by the chocolate chipper, White House opted to give cheesecake a try — and it’s already selling better.
As for why restaurants don’t just add without subtracting, it’s a matter of space.
“There’s not enough room in the kitchen for more items if you can’t use them in multiple places,” Behlow said. “Some things you can leave on because it’s not affecting what you’re bringing in, but it was the only thing we used those apples for.”
As such, you can still usually get the Sundried Satisfaction even though it’s not on the menu, but the Laughing Linguine would be without its signature clams.
Instead, you can keep up with culinary trends by sampling crispy Brussels sprouts or Thai wings.
If something new flops or something old remains in high demand, there’s a small possibility of a return, but don’t count on it.
“Everyone once in awhile we’ll put something back on, but usually it’s a good choice,” Behlow said.
At the Miner’s Claim, owner Christian Herra has had a similar experience.
“You might get a couple frowns, but I think we get more smiles,” he said. “We offer so many items that there’s enough flavors to appease them all.”
Miner’s Claim usually makes adjustments in spring. This year, the sea scallops didn’t make the cut, also because their main ingredient appeared in only one dish.
“Food and trends evolve. Right now people tend to like small plates,” Herra observed. “We kind of try to follow that but also twist things up. I look at what my competitors do and try to do something different.”
Herra also tries to keep things seasonal.
“You’re going to eat more salads and chilled items in the summer,” he explained. “In the winter it’s going to be more comfort food.”
One place you might see a popular entree gone in a wink is the Pullman, where the menu sees changes on an almost monthly basis. Some of that is a function of local and seasonal sourcing, but it’s also fundamental to the restaurant’s philosophy.
“We’ve done away with some of our best sellers because they’ve run their course. Virtually nothing is held sacred,” said manager Martin Harris. “I don’t see us getting rid of the steak salad or the mac and cheese, but I’ve thought that about other things.”
The chips and bleu cheese, for instance, were missed by many.
“We definitely get yelled at sometimes for taking stuff off that people really love, but for the most part people appreciate being able to come in and get something different,” Harris said. “If you’re not changing, you fall behind. People come here and maybe leave with something about food they never knew before.”
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