The Modern Food Café

The Modern Food Café

“Could I please have the Slow Braised Pork Belly with Cauliflower Puree, Confit Tomato, Kale and Cannellini Bean Dressing”.

No we are not at a fine dinning restaurant, we are at ‘Three Blue Ducks’ on Bronte Beach in Sydney, one of the new age café style businesses.

The café menu is more sophisticated then ever with cafes bringing up the standard of their food service level to meet with the high end coffee delivery. This style of food service is still only apparent in a small percentage of café operators but the trend is growing fast. With the rise of café coffee sales reaching an annual figure of 13 billion dollars it shows us this space is healthy and is a good arena for experimentation by the elite businesses.

I was not shocked reading the latest survey results showing that one of the biggest growth areas is in the café food service area. Getting away from the normal expected menu and experimenting with different food offerings seems to be what the consumer is looking for.
I know myself I want to get the most out of my hard earned dollar and I like an experience every time I go out, even if its only a breakfast or a light lunch.

We are starting to see café owners employing restaurant chefs who are several steps ahead of the traditional bread based café offering and therefore we are seeing more plated dishes on the café menu. If you cruise around the top end café scene in Melbourne it’s not uncommon to see delicacies such as duck confit, beef flank Chimichanga’s and shin meat ragout high up on the menu boards. The two nice things about the higher quality café menu is that it is reasonably priced and you don’t have to book weeks in advance, you just wait in line with the other punters.

I get excited when a see café owners step outside the normality of the café menu. Yes it’s nice to have a few old favourites on the menu but when you modify them a bit you start to create a real point of difference. For example the traditional steak sanga with tomato sauce could now sound like, seared skirt steak on a brioche bun with tangy vine tomato relish with a stew of caramalised red onion. Not only does it make the original meal sound much more tantalising you could even put a few extra bucks on it for the description.

Menu design is always a challenge for many café owners but spending the time on this part of the business will reward you instantly. Getting some help by restaurant chefs is a good way to spice up the menu. Menus need to be seasonal and recognise current trends in environmental, freshness, locally produced and ethical sourced products.

A good café should run at around 30% food cost so getting a higher cost dish into the menu is possible if the portion size is reduced a little and the price of the dish is put into the food cost calculation. I use the following formula; the sum of all portions times by three, which will give you the minimum sale price for that meal. If you apply this calculation all the time you will never over run the food costs in the business. There are still some other important factors to consider such as the type of customer base and the area in which the business is located, that may affect this quantitative approach a little.

We are blessed in Australia with fresh produce, even our mainstream supermarkets stock
some great gourmet treats. The café menu that highlights this fresh menu design often will be the business with every seat filled during service hours. I will go out of my way to eat farm fresh produce and organic treats that taste like they have been picked from the garden that morning.

My personal future prediction of food trends
in the café sector sees quality now being the winning formula for the modern café concept. I travel a lot around the country and overseas and I still see people lining up for high quality service and product if it is presented in an affordable manner. The coffee service in Australian cafes
is leading the world and I can see that soon cafe businesses will also lead the way with cool menu ideas and open thinking.

Until now many leading food suppliers have not had a plan for the Café Industry. Food service suppliers need to start looking where the consumers is spending their money and look at how they can enter this space before they get over looked. It is the independent café that is driving the quality approach and they still need help from the supply chain with new concepts and smart products. Many new suppliers come into the market place trying to crack a franchise structure with out learning from the smaller innovative café businesses. The real figures are that 80% of the café industry is independently run cafes. It’s time to start looking at what these figures are telling us and we will start to predict trends faster, giving the café industry longevity.

- Sean Edwards, Managing Director, Café Culture

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