For 33 years, Gregg Rapp has been showing chefs and restaurant owners that the bottom line in their success ties in directly with the emotions their menus evoke for their customers, before the first bite is taken. Before the first appetizer is even ordered, according to Rapp, the customer connects to the restaurant through the feel and look of its menu.
"I laughed when one of my clients referred to me as 'The Menu Whisperer'. I went back and watched the movie 'The Horse Whisperer' with Robert Redford. I guess it is true. That is exactly what I do. Along with the technical approach to evaluating the menu, I sit back and listen. I listen to the customers and listen to the history of the menu -- what it has been through to get where it is today. I listen to the owner, the kitchen, the leadership, the managers and the team members who work with the menu every day. It's more than just an equation or an algorithm. Listening shows me how to extract the heart and soul of the menu for the restaurant," Rapp says. He adds, "This summer, everyone's redoing their menus because of rising food prices and labor costs," so he maintains it's even more important to entice customers back to their tables.
Rapp, who's spent 33 years engineering menus from mom-and-pop diners all the way to top restaurant chains, Disneyland, and 5-star restaurants, spends careful time asking the key questions of everyone in the restaurant. Patiently practicing the art of menu whispering with the chef, the owner, the manager and to restaurant chain executives, he delves into the dynamic, beyond just short term profitability of the dining experience they're seeking. He finds the often subtle ways to tweak their current menus, he says, "to ensure that the menu reflects the identity of the restaurant in the clearest possible way." Rapp says this is how you build loyalty, increase guest frequency and long term profits and growth.
But how is Rapp able to take an average menu and turn it into such a mouth-watering and evocative experience for the customer that he's able to directly trace restaurant profitability to the brand new menu?
"A lot of people are trying to do what Gregg does, but they don't have the magic that Gregg brings to his menu engineering," says Tom Frank, a founder of P.F. Chang's China Bistro and currently Culture Consultant for the restaurant industry. "Gregg knows how to build a menu so people find what they want and what they will come back for. He teaches us what we can do to our menus to make every customer into a regular customer. "
Recently, Rapp overhauled the menus at a national chain of more than 40 restaurants.