Hotel F&B Observer Blog

Hotel food and beverage professionals share experience, skills and commentary. These hotelier blogs reflect a variety of unique career perspectives and real-life workplace stories, observations and opinions.

Guard Your Secret Recipe, Not the Secret Service – Maybe

Ever have your dining patrons ask your waitstaff for the chef’s secret recipe he/she uses on your best-selling appetizer, which also happens to be of interest to your competitors?  It also may be purposely guarded now that you’ve trademarked the name and taken the effort and expense to covet this little treasure tucked away in your cramped index card file somewhere lost on your over-stuffed desk. On the low side of expenses, it might cost you about $159 to trade mark your recipe, if you feel it’s worth it to avoid copycat recipe designers.

Obtaining trademark registration is not as simple as domain-name registration, and your effort will require further research, downloading registration forms from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and a little fee (try bartering) for the services of a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property (not real estate or family law – although your house counsel may wear many hats, berets, etc.).

However, you may not in fact need a trademark just yet. Trademarks protect your corporate identity, specifically the name, slogans, images and marks associated with your company’s “brand.”  So, how about a patent? Nope, not really. A patent is for “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvements thereof.”  So, unless your recipe is for cold fusion, you probably aren’t in the market for a patent. How about copyright? Sorry. Copyright is generally reserved for artistic endeavors such as books, music, plays and such.

Copycat restaurant recipe books can be found on the web by respected authors who will walk you through the simple step by step methods to cooking your favorite dishes.

Our advice: Set up a business that produces your food, use trademarks to protect the brand identity of your company, and keep your recipe a closely guarded secret, somewhere in your crumpled layers of desk matter and look out for the missing corner-torn and grease-patched 3×5 index card you used to scribble happy faces on. It might be worth having the Secret Service around for this little gem.

On the other hand, keep your secret recipe (and card) a secret from the staff and instruct them to advise your eager patrons to enjoy the pan-seared scallops which had been resting in a brine of sweet Lillet vermouth, orange rinds, sea salt and pepper, pepper flakes, and a dose of hand-rubbed fresh tarragon leaves emitting their magic and aromatic flavors all their own, served over mesclun salad drizzled with light virgin olive oil and a whisper of sherry vinegar (there’s a hint of the sherry-and-vermouth waltz taking place on this prep). Other than that, your staff will just have to tell the wonting patrons that it’s a house secret, and, with apologies from the chef, he won’t divulge the recipe. Then have a neatly hand-printed (calligraphy looks good, too) card with your “assumptions” of the secret house recipe for Seared Scallops du Bon Coeur (use a heart-healthy sticker on this one) and discreetly place it in with the credit card slot when the bill is submitted to your diners. Hope it’s worth the extra tip on this one.

So, chef, as long as you can continue to earn quiet praises from the dining hall, your waitstaff will find a valuable coup with their quiet recipe tactic to dispense such guarded house secrets and turn it into a staging act for good service and PR. (BTW – chef is in on this ploy.)

And then just get rid of the Secret Service sitting at table four; they look like they’ve been here before and always order the same house pan-seared scallops. These guys must be from your competitor… probably looking for a job.



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  • Tad Wilkes posted: 18 Apr at 8:37 am

    Good tact for this situation. Thanks, Meg.