By Wayne Samiere CEO, Honolulu Fish Company
Just the barest mention of Hawaii sets your mind’s eye to painting pictures of a tropical paradise with turquoise waters, volcanic sand beaches, decadent Polynesian food and sundrenched weather.
But try the same exercise using “upstate New York,” “the plains of Montana” or “New Zealand’s rocky cliffs” and I’m betting such equally glorious images won’t race to mind. Despite the stunning beauty of those locales, where, respectively, the fattest ducks, best-marbled beef cattle and fork tender lamb are raised
the mention of their provenance doesn’t pack the same power to generate as memorable a marketing message as does Hawaii. And yet surprisingly, the phrase “Hawaiian fish” is rarely found on restaurant menus. Ahi, mahimahi, sunfish, kajiki, etc., are all identified as destined for your plate, but usually without acknowledgement to the waters in which they swam. I know this because our crew at Honolulu Fish scours thousands of online restaurant menus every year. And to our continued disbelief, only a minor percentage tell their guests the story that “our fish comes from Hawaiian fisheries,” some of the best managed, most diverse and productive fisheries in the world.
Believe me, I don’t take this personally. It also happens regularly with fish harvested from other amazing waters. Menus mention fresh salmon, snapper, bass, swordfish, you name it, but their provenance is absent from their descriptions. That’s a major missed marketing opportunity in my mind.
Saying, “tonight’s fresh ahi was line-caught in Hawaiian waters and flown here this morning” piques guests’ interest by taking them (mentally, at least) on a brief adventure to the source of what you’re selling them. It’s telling the whole story in a way that also makes a quality statement about the effort that you, Chef, routinely make to bring them the best seafood available.
And yes, you, Chef, are the person I also believe should lead the sales charge of promoting the stories of origin of not only Hawaiian fish (if you serve it), but of any protein, fruit or vegetable that has a truly compelling message behind it. Telling those stories elevates the guest experience above consuming a mere meal by making the whole a memorable event. If you make the effort to source it, make sure to transfer that passion for those products to your servers who sell it. They’ll be as excited about it as you are!
Consider this: Go a step further by acknowledging that, in this foodie culture, your guests like to be “in the know.” They like telling their friends they had beef from X and fish from Y once they’ve experienced better beef and fish from those places. So indulge and entertain them with that information. Make them experts—if only for a day or two if their short-term memory is good—by telling them the story of the incredible food you’re making them. When you associate sashimi-grade ahi with the land of hula dancers and volcanos, that’s a vivid image they’ll struggle to get out of their heads, if they try at all.