In a world where fine dining is dominated by red meat, Water Grill emerges as a rare entity that truly puts seafood first. Water Grill takes their seafood so seriously, in fact, that they control virtually every step of their supply chain. Sustainable seafood has been a top priority since the first restaurant’s opening in 1989, long before it was ‘cool.’ Nearly 30 years, Water Grill has expanded ever-so-carefully with prime locations across Southern California and Dallas.
A theme of humble elegance resonates from the moment you set foot through the doors. A sprawling dining room with plush booths, dark wood tables and dim lighting speaks to the iconic steakhouse while the raw bar, lobster tanks and fish state that while steak is served here, it comes in a distant second. The staff to guest ratio is astounding, with an army of servers catering to the haute crowd in spectacular fashion even by fine dining standards.
Water Grill’s menu is both vast and ever changing, the revolving door of seafood selections changing with fishing seasons from across the world. An impressive raw bar showcases all the oysters you could ever want, as well as a fashionable crudo lineup highlighted by addictive Japanese-seasoned scallops.
Iconic dishes such as crab cakes and lobster rolls have been perfected over three decades. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t order the Chilean seabass, a historic best-seller so rich and flaky that it practically melts on the plate. Shellfish is nothing short of top-notch—spiny lobster was in season at the time of this writing, served sliced down the middle and practically bursting at the seams with butter.
Artfully crafted cocktails and a sophisticated wine and beer list contain a pairing for everything, and that impeccable service staff s more than ready to navigate the menu for you. Expectedly, the price point here will set you back, but is worth every penny.
Water Grill has locations in Santa Monica, DTLA, Orange County, San Diego and Dallas. Santa Monica location open 11a – 11p Sun – Thu, 11a – midnight Fri/Sat. Avg. Out-the-door price for appetizer, entrée, side, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$150/person. For more information, visit WaterGrill.com
Not every menu item is going to be a best-seller. It’s reasonable to expect your signatures to outpace your lesser-known dishes, and for newer items to take a while to catch on. But the dynamic between haute plates and their not-so-popular counterparts goes much deeper. Some restaurants add items to their menu without expecting a sales lift at all, using them as a marketing ploy instead. Nefarious? No, there’s nothing wrong with putting an item on the menu that you can prepare but don’t expect to sell all that often. Strategic, on the other hand? Yes, absolutely.
So what’s the point of adding an item to your menu that you don’t expect to catch on? Check out several applications for this approach.
Your menu says a lot about your restaurant. In the same way that chic, modern décor defines a hip, urban feel, so too does an exotic ingredient list and fusion of worldly flavors. On the surface, these trends reflect the masses’ yearning to try new and different creations, and thus the establishments that serve salt-crusted bone marrow and grilled octopus will bring new faces through their doors.
In reality, however, many restaurant owners attest that while these intriguing items create the initial draw, most customers will revert to more traditional items when actually placing their order. So bone marrow may be a great crowd-pleaser on paper, but servers will mostly relay requests for burgers and mac ‘n’ cheese. Sure, they may be short rib burgers with a kimchi and fried jalapeno, and truffle mac ‘n’ cheese, but the items with more familiar bases will often prevail in the end.
So why add an item like bone marrow in the first place? Because if you limit your menu to the basic items, however exotic their additives may be, guests will limit their perception of your menu to be much less adventurous. In the same way that a Ferrari owner may not often take the car up to 220 mph, just knowing that the car can go that fast creates the appeal that justifies the price. Bone marrow essentially becomes an accessory, a kind of menu eye candy that lifts up everything around it, elevating the brand to demonstrate exotic appeal.
Should everyone add something like bone marrow to their menu? Definitely not—if you own a casual restaurant that thrives on good food at low prices, exotic menu additions can lead people to assume that you’re more expensive, driving down volume. On the other hand, if you’re trying to become more ‘hip and trendy,’ then maybe a novel touch to your menu can help. Just be sure that any additions align with your restaurant’s central theme, fits into your margins and that you account for sourcing, storage and staff training.
A much more typical case of menu additions comes in pricing. Adding an item that is well below, or above the average menu price [or both] is known as anchoring, and can have a positive effect when it comes to the psychology behind your customers’ ordering process.
When a customer sees entrees for $18, $17, $18, $19, $16, $29 and $17, the $29 item clearly stands out and poses little chance of being ordered. This can be a steak option amidst a lineup of burgers and sandwiches, but in any case makes every other item seem that much cheaper by comparison.
On the other hand, when the entrée list reads $38, $46, $29, $41, $42 and $39, all of a sudden that $29 item seems like a bargain. In this case, most guests may not get the $29 chicken, but because there’s a sub-$30 item on the menu, it makes the restaurant as a whole appear to be in closer reach of a more price-conscious consumer.
Both methods used simultaneously can work, just be sure not to go too extreme in either direction. An item priced too low can lower your restaurant’s brand perception [“If they make a sandwich for $8, then their $38 steak can’t be that good.”]. An item priced too high will just be taken out of the consideration set entirely [“A $95 porterhouse for two…well that just sounds silly.].
Make these additions one small step at a time and test frequently to see if they’re making an impact on your volume or sales. It’s always easier to scale back on a small change than a huge rollout.
The delivery business is booming. GrubHub, UberEats, DoorDash and countless others that venture beyond compound words have taken a dining segment ruled by pizza and expanded it to every cuisine under the sun. On the surface, delivery is an excellent opportunity that allows restaurants to sell to guests who may not have visited them in person. Add in the fact that drivers are on-demand contractors and require no additional head count and you’ve got a pretty good deal.
Delivery still isn’t for everyone, however. A number of factors exist that restaurant owners should consider before going into the delivery business.
While delivery has undoubtedly gotten trendier, it still carries a stigma that can drag down the overall image of a restaurant. While delivery aligns perfectly with most any casual restaurant, the area gets grayer as the average check rises. Steakhouse patrons may question the quality of the food at their table if they see that the restaurant also delivers. While this example is a bit extreme, it’s up to you to assess where your restaurant sits on the premium spectrum and whether delivery is a fit.
On the other end, if you have a high-volume restaurant known for a line out the door, and that line is actually part of ‘the experience,’ delivery may hurt that element, not to mention burden your staff with additional orders and slow the line to a dangerous extent.
Food quality is always at risk in a delivery setting. The longer the delivery, the longer the food sits. Temperatures cool, sheen fades and your food can go from beautiful to unappetizing before the guest can even get a chance to look at it. In most cases, presentation can never match what you’d prepare onsite, especially when you’re at the mercy of speed bumps, sharp turns and other elements that will shake around whatever’s in the back seat.
If you’re comfortable with leaving your food on the counter for a while before a server can pick it up, delivery could be a viable option. If you tolerate nothing less than dishes going out the moment they’re ready, you may not want your food sitting in the back of a car for however long it takes to get to your guests.
Food delivery services can be very expensive, with commissions as high as 30–40% in some cases. This, no doubt, eats significantly into your bottom line. It’s critical to assess whether food delivery will actually be profitable to the point where it’s worth your time.
Determine the minimum amount needed to justify your costs, factoring in any holdups that take place for your dine-in patrons since your kitchen staff will be taking on more orders. If these thresholds are met, then any delivery orders that take place will deliver positive returns.
If you decide to go the delivery route, keep tabs on your revenues and average checks of dine-in vs. delivery business. If you see dine-in revenue slip dramatically, it could be that your dine-in guests simply switched over to delivery. Taking commission into account, this move is not beneficial for your business.
To remedy this situation, experiment with different minimum check requirements for delivery as well as dine-in promotions and events in order to distinguish your restaurant experience while retaining delivery as an additional revenue stream rather than a substitute revenue stream.
Most delivery services have streamlined processes that allow owners and staff to manage deliveries swiftly and efficiently. Even so, take note of the time it actually takes you to manage your deliveries and whether that’s affecting you or your staff’s ability to manage in-store operations.
Pressure on cooking staff is an ever-present factor, as is management needing to handle incoming delivery requests alongside pressing guest issues and handling the inevitable broken dish on the dining room floor. This assessment will likely be less analytical, but take time to consider whether your delivery business is truly manageable or more burdensome than it seems.
If you decide to go into delivery, monitor these factors on a regular basis. By taking a holistic look at how delivery is affecting you financially and operationally, you will be able to make beneficial, proactive decisions as needed to manage this revenue stream.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.