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Making a Signature Dish with Idaho Potatoes

Q:

How can I make my Idaho potatoes a signature or special item on the menu?

A:

Remember when Chili’s first came out with their Chicken or beef Fajitas? They were the best, a standard to be aspired to. What did most of their competition do instead? They added fajitas to the menu, but also figured out ways to make it cheaper, to leave off some of the options or to skip steps (why sauté or roast the red peppers when you can just steam some ahead and grab off the make-up line, became why not use green peppers, they are cheaper).

Well, the answers are a lot simpler than you might imagine. The execution is the real issue. First, identify what you are serving versus your competition.  Even bring in an order of mashed potatoes or baked potatoes from a competitor and analyze it.  Be sure to compare the same things. Compare portion sizes (and know that you don’t have to win this one, just make sure your portion is not tiny compared to theirs), plating appearance, texture, taste, flavor expectation versus what the menu says and ask your staff to tell you how they might enhance what the competition is serving BEFORE judging your potato side dish.

Now breakdown your potato side… could it be served in a different container to give it an edge over the competition? Does the flavor really shout out or is it too subtle to even pick up. Is it too salty? I’ll mention that one again… too much salt on the final product? Recently I went to an I-N-Out where the fries were not salted, but a packet of salt was served with them allowing the customer to adjust to taste. And if they added too much, whose fault was it then? Would leaving the skin on change the flavor profile? Would a different method make it special (for example, folding in the shredded cheese or spices after the mashed are done, almost to order) or what would it cost to add an option for the customer: such as sautéed mushrooms to mashed, the works to a hash brown dish (see Huddle House as the master of this exercise of making a common hash brown side into something special) or maybe more of the same (such as eight different popular potato sides on the menu). Once you have done all this, test out the final product with some of your regulars to see if they like it even better than before.