Best Menu Promotion

North by Northwest Menu Featuring Alaskan Salmon

This fish almost got away. It was mid-August 1997 and Peter D'Andrea and Jill Davies, both new to Marriott Lodging, were poised to launch their first promotion for the hospitality giant. It was to feature the tasty Coho salmon swimming in Alaska's Copper River -- a product that required the delivery capabilities of United Parcel Service.

Then UPS went on strike. "That definitely gave us some anxious moments," says Davies, senior director of food and beverage development. D'Andrea, Marriott's corporate executive chef, adds, "Freshness was crucial, so we had no choice but to wait out the strike."

So when the brown trucks started rolling again two weeks later, the promotion was on, earning Marriott the 1998 Nation's Restaurant News MenuMasters Award for The Best Menu Promotion.

During the six-week run that ended Oct. 3, 1997, more than 20,000 pounds of Alaskan salmon were shipped to the 114 participating Marriott domestic hotels. D'Andrea says: "This program increased our check averages. We also sold more cover counts and gained a lot of loyal customers."

Called North By Northwest, the promotion targeted breakfast, lunch and dinner.

"The average check increased anywhere from 60 cents to $1.75," Davies notes. Beverage sales also increased since the salmon entrees were paired with Northern California wines, including two Clos du Bois classics and a Mumm Cuvee Napa.

Heightening anticipation for North By Northwest was the novelty of it as a Marriott promotion.

"They [Marriott] were used to longer-term promotions, more like six months," says D'Andrea, a top-rated chef who came to Marriott from Aramark. "This was different. It was short-term, seasonal and unique."

The idea was conceived early in 1997 during a visit by Davies and D'Andrea to the Boston Seafood Show. "We developed a relationship with the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute," D'Andrea says. "I said we wanted a promotion that would run six weeks and that would be fresh and unique."

The ASMI people had a fish -- the Coho salmon -- that fit the profile. And if the promotion could be timed to coincide with the fish run in late summer, then the freshness angle would be assured.

When the promotion was introduced to Marriott's chefs, there was some initial resistance. "Each chef is responsible for his or her own P&L so they said, 'I can buy farm-raised fish from Florida for half the price,' " D'Andrea says.

"But that's not what we were trying to do," he adds. "Only 1 percent of fish today is wild, and the Coho salmon is one of the only wild salmon left. It is world renowned for its delicious flavor and firm texture, which comes from swimming freely in swift, icy waters and eating plankton." The promotion took from six to eight weeks to pull together. D'Andrea wrote the menu and then gathered his 12 regional chefs from around the world to develop plate presentations.

Davies was responsible for positioning the promotion, deciding on meal periods, price points, developing collateral materials and handling all internal and external marketing. Pricing for the menu varied nationwide with entrees ranging between $13.95 to $15.95 and light entrees from $6.95 to $11.95.

Even before the promotion began, Davies saw signs of success. "Usually, we get 65 to 70 hotels participating, but this was over 100," she says. "I think they had gotten a little tired of long-term promotions and were excited about something new."

In the weeks before the launch, D'Andrea's team made frequent visits to Ocean Beauty Seafood, the processing plant in Seattle. Ocean Beauty's boats would catch the fish in Alaska and bring them to the plant for preparation. "We wanted them to fillet only, pick the pin bones out, take the skin off and ship in 48 hours," D'Andrea explains.

So successful was North By Northwest that Marriott Lodging is making it a standard late-summer addition to its menus. D'Andrea calls the promotion "a big win. Now our chefs are saying, 'It's worth it. It draws customers.'

"It was very exciting for me and my department. We love trying new things, and this shows the customer the direction Marriott is taking in the culinary world.


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