Perceptive diners increasingly want to enjoy something that they can share with others, and signature dishes give consumers that kind of unique experience. A signature dish can mean many different things. Classic dishes allow people to connect with their roots and the history of the regions where they live or travel. Often, a restaurant’s signature dish is a special modified version of a popular dish.  By promoting signature dishes or beverages, restaurateurs can take advantage of these customer desires and preferences drawing in committed fans of particular dishes, cuisines and styles of cooking.

Enthusiastic Support Creates Word-of-mouth & Online Referrals

People show tremendous loyalty and enthusiasm for their favorite foods, and signature foods or dishes are the culinary equivalent of an author finding his or her niche or an artist finding a unique style of self-expression. In fact, most restaurant franchises started operations based partly on the culinary appeal of some signature dishes, styles of cooking, service or plating presentations.

  • Famous dishes often incorporate local produce, seafood, game or condiments.
  • Some restaurants specialize in cooking national, regional or local dishes that are popular with people from particular ethnic backgrounds.
  • Signature dishes might change over time as new chefs brand dishes with their own styles or make changes to reduce fat.
  • Brand image and food consistency often have their roots in distinctive restaurant dishes.
  • Emphasizing history, preparation techniques or sustainable local ingredients provides rich marketing possibilities for restaurants.

Samples of Signature Dishes from Celebrity Chefs and Famous Restaurants

Signature dishes might include appetizers, soups, salads, streaks, entrées or desserts, and cooking methods range from simple and healthy to complicated dishes like cassoulet that take several days to prepare. In New York, the Waldorf salad and Delmonico steak became inextricably linked to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and Delmonico’s restaurant in lower Manhattan, and the foods shared fame with the establishments that served them, which has lasted since the 19th century.

Regional favorites include barbecue dishes, Cajun and Creole specialties, crab cakes, chili, barbecue ribs, muffuletta sandwiches, Philly cheese steaks, Louisiana gumbo, pastrami sandwiches and spectacular desserts such as baked Alaska, chocolate soufflé, crêpes Suzette and croquembouche.

Celebrity chefs often gain notoriety based on their interpretations of signature menu items:

  • Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace adopted Puerto Rican grilled shrimp, a popular street food served on sticks, to create an upscale dish called Caribbean Grilled Shrimp “Pincho’s.”
  • Franz Sacher became famous for his signature sachertorte, which bears his name.
  • Gordon Ramsay’s signature dish, beef Wellington, appears in his many restaurants and television shows.
  • Heston Blumenthal established a reputation for a dish with the unlikely name of snail porridge.

Restaurant signature dishes can serve as tourist attractions and sources of civic. Commander’s Palace in New Orleans has produced many celebrity chefs, such as Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse and Tory McPhail, and signature dishes that include turtle soup with sherry, bread pudding soufflé, Parmesan-crusted oysters and pecan-crusted Gulf fish.

Promotional Power Extends Beyond Any Single Dish

The important things about signature dishes is that they capture the imagination of aficionados who influence other people to visit restaurants including those who have little interest in the signature dishes.

  • People who visit restaurants to enjoy their favorite foods often try other menu items and spend lots of money on à la carte foods and beverages.
  • Servers and staff can upsell signature dishes by explaining their history, traditional accompaniments and suitable wine choices.
  • Restaurants can link their cuisines with local or regional foods, ethnic specialties and sustainable local sources.
  • Signature dishes can generate social and traditional media attention for restaurants, which increases marketing attraction, star power and online visibility.

Restaurants often need to change their menus and foods to keep pace with culinary trends, but signature dishes have the power to serve as anchors for loyal customers and evolve to reflect new trends, healthier eating habits and the techniques and personalities of new head chefs.