- Shake Shack has opened a menu testing lab called Innovation Kitchen in the lower level of its corporate headquarters in New York City's West Village neighborhood. According to QSR Magazine, the kitchen allows the company’s chefs to create whatever dishes they want to test upstairs in the restaurant.
- Jeffrey Amoscato, Shake Shack’s vice president of supply chain and menu innovation, said the company has relied on innovating from restaurants’ basements since its early days. “We can test everything that will go up in the Shack, and then we have more equipment than what a typical Shack would have,” he said.
- The Innovation Kitchen has already yielded a menu item — Chick’n Bites — that are available at select New York City locations and will be tested in other markets throughout October. The all-natural chicken breast bites are served with BBQ or honey mustard.
Shake Shack has pushed the innovation envelope since it debuted as a hot dog cart in 2004. The brainchild of prolific restaurateur Danny Meyer has eliminated tipping, opened a kiosk-only location and embraced a “fine casual” label, which Meyer describes as “80% of the quality you would have gotten in a fine dining restaurant” for 80% cheaper and 60% faster.
And while every major restaurant chain has an innovation kitchen tucked away in their corporate headquarters for their culinary and marketing teams to experiment with, Shake Shack has taken a different approach. By opening its innovation kitchen in the lower level of one of its busiest restaurants, the chain is able to gauge consumer responses to potential new menu items in real time. If an item resonates with customers at the West Village location, the company considers it for a broader rollout.
This allows the company’s chefs to leverage their creativity, and could potentially save the company time and money by circumventing a focus group and test market phase. Chains typically rely on those test markets to ensure that a specific menu item can fit into their operations without compromising speed or service. Shake Shack’s new approach is dependent on spontaneity, and is a marketing tool in itself — enticing customers to stop by and see what new innovation will be on the menu that night.
Shake Shack is also using this location to test some of its popular international menu items. Though this practice has become more common as consumers increasingly crave more diverse and global options (McDonald’s has a global menu available at its Chicago headquarters), Shake Shack’s guests are able to sample these in real time. “Maybe we’ll bring some burgers coming from international over here. Or we’ll start testing some international flavors here before we work with our partners to bring it locally to them,” Amoscato said.
Amoscato said the kitchen allows Shake Shack to act smaller — like a startup that continually experiments. Because of Shack Shack’s culinary prowess, it has the ability to do this without straying too far from its core branding.
“It’s going to be all over the place, and that’s going to be the fun thing, that we have that ability now that we didn’t have before,” Amoscato said … “I don't know if it will be sold upstairs, but it'll be here for fun.”