Food & Beverage Industry
Target: food-service managers and owners
2 min, 44 seconds
Minimize Your Menu,
Maximize Your Profits
The plague of “The Massive Menu”—pages upon pages of apps, sandwiches, pasta, salads, entrees, desserts, and more. You want to please all the customers that walk in the door, so why not put a little something for everyone on the menu? Unfortunately, that’s counter-intuitive.
Less really does tend to be more.
By paring down your menu, and improving the items on it, your customers will leave happier and excited to return.
Your Menu is Your Brand
Social media, websites, and interior decor help communicate your brand. But your menu is your brand. It’s what you’re selling. It’s who you are.
A limited menu allows you to establish and focus your brand. If your menu features a huge variety of cuisines or a confusing array of dishes, chances are you’re not creating an effective brand. It shouldn’t read like the Cheesecake Factory’s bible of choices.
Customers generally want to know what sort of genre of cuisine they’re getting themselves into when they choose a restaurant. When they go out to eat, they’re searching for specific keywords: “Italian”, “Local”, “Vegan”, “Gluten-Free”. Part of establishing an effective brand is clearly establishing who you are, and what you have to offer. And that’s the job of your menu.
You need to convey a specific vision to your customers. Are you an Asian-Fusion restaurant? Do you specialize in local ingredients? Are you all vegan? Narrowing down exactly what your brand on your menu is will enhance your marketing.
Having a Large Menu is Like Throwing Away Money
Stocking enough food to carry a 50-item menu means that most likely you are wasting a good portion of your inventory. Unless turnover is very high, keeping fresh ingredients for a large menu is difficult without freezing large portions of stock, creating food waste, or skipping fresh food altogether.
By up-keeping a large menu, you’re paying more to throw away more. Limiting your dishes can help ensure that your food is fresh and that you don’t lose money to food waste.
Is Your Huge Menu Reducing Food Quality?
Food costs are not the only financial considerations to make. Your menu may be driving
away customers if you’re focusing on quantity over quality.
A huge menu comes with a huge casualty—the kitchen. Stretching your back-of-house staff to be prepared to make dozens of dishes (including special orders and modifications) increases wait time, prep time, and puts undue stress on the kitchen staff. This opens the door for mistakes, late or missing food, and increased labor costs to keep up with extensive prep. Chefs may have to lean on microwaves and heat lamps more heavily, or take shortcuts in order to make a huge menu function.
Because large menus reduce efficiency, it will inevitably reduce the quality of your food. Lower quality leads to negative reviews, and eventually loss of profit. If you focus on a 15-item menu made well, your customers will be happier than with a 50-item menu made poorly.
Extensive Choices Are Confusing
It might seem like a good idea to offer your customers as many options as possible. Who wouldn’t want to be able to get whatever they want in a restaurant? Well, it turns out most people wouldn’t.
Studies have shown that people are more confident and happier with their choices when
they are offered fewer options, rather than more. Having fewer options reduces “buyer’s
regret”. Customers are more satisfied with what they’ve selected when they have fewer
options to begin with, rather than feeling that perhaps they should have ordered something
Customers shouldn’t start out their experience at your restaurant with hesitation, doubt, and the pressure of choice. Pare down your options, and you’ll find customers will make more confident selections and will be more satisfied with them.
Rotation, Rotation, Rotation
Limited menus allow you to change dishes regularly. Instead of offering a lot of choices at once, encourage customers to visit and re-visit by providing a variety of options by changing the menu throughout the year.
Rotate your menu based on the season, monthly, weekly, or even day-to-day. By changing dishes based on growing seasons, you can take advantage of the freshest ingredients. Not only will you be saving money by buying when certain foods are plentiful, you’ll also be purchasing fresher and more local stock. Local vendors can give you special deals, as well as higher quality ingredients, and the added benefit of being able to say you support local farmers and producers.
A changing menu gives you a marketing boost as well. By posting your new menu on social media, you are essentially creating a brand new ad for yourself on a regular basis that will pull customers in.
Can a Smaller Menu Compete?
Can restaurants with a limited menu succeed against large menu competitors? The answer is yes, with conditions.
If you choose to implement a smaller menu, you must execute each dish incredibly well, and maintain quality at a higher degree. If one item on your menu simply doesn’t measure up, it will show.
Limiting your dishes forces you and your staff to strive for excellence in every dish. But in turn, this hones and solidifies your brand. A small selection of delicious dishes will please customers more than a large selection of average dishes.
How Low Can You Go?
So how many items should be on your menu?
Short answer: no more than 25 items (excluding alcohol).
Long answer: it depends.
Sit down with your front-of-house staff to get a feel for your customer’s ordering habits. What do they tend to favor? What don’t they order? You want to cut items that aren’t ordered often and make sure the dishes you do offer give a clear message as to who you are.
Break every dish into three categories: appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Ideally, there should only be a few options in each category. Start out making a list of 4 appetizers, 4 entrees, and 2 desserts. What does this menu of 10 items say about your restaurant? Does it exemplify your brand? Make notes, and consider your options moving forward.
Unless your restaurant focuses on a build-your-own menu (like tacos, ramen, or burgers), side orders should be very limited, if offered at all. Limit your side item options to 2.
By getting down to bare bones, it will be easier to see your brand shine through and come up with a smaller menu that works for your business.
Small Menu, Big Results
It’s hard to “kill your darlings”, but just like editing an essay, cutting away the fat of your menu will yield a better result. As you come up with your new menu, remember:
● Pick 4 apps, 4 entrees, and 2 desserts. Add carefully and thoughtfully from there.
● Listen to your front-of-house staff about customers’ ordering habits and complaints.
● By focusing your menu, you’re focusing your brand.
● Quality over quantity.
● Food costs, labor costs, and waste will be reduced.
● Having a menu that changes periodically will bring back repeat customers.
● Customers will be more confident in their choices and less intimidated by your menu.
Less is more. Focus on your strengths, and let the soul of your restaurant shine through.