Is Your Menu Too Aggressive for Your Market?

By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert

Take out your menu and look at it. Go on, do it…no one is watching. Take it all in. How do you feel about your menu? Are you happy with it? The real question is: Are your guests happy with it?

Menu creation is easy. Anyone can pick out some items, put them on a menu, and try to sell them. The true art comes when you try to make a profit from that. Sometimes that is not as easy as some believe it is.

The answers are in the questions you ask yourself about your menu. If you want better results, then ask better questions. The truth is liberating, however, at first you’ll be more pissed off. It’s okay, emotions get people motivated. You just need trust the process.

So, let’s get a little uncomfortable. Here are some questions you need to ask yourself while you have your menu in front of you.

Square Peg, Round Hole

Does your menu match your brand? This might seem like a simple question on the surface. You say you are a modern Southwest grill concept, yet your menu is mostly pasta dishes with only two grilled items. Are you really a grill?

Your sign says you are a Mexican restaurant, yet your menu offers pizza. No, not pizzas inspired with roasted poblano peppers and chorizo, just plain pepperoni and cheese. Confused? So are your guests.

The best exercise you can do is ask your staff. They interact with your guests every day and are a great source of information. Now get a wide range of staff to ask and not just that person on your team who agrees with you. You want honest feedback, not just validation.

The Right Tools

Is your restaurant designed and equipped for the menu? It is quite shocking to see the number of restaurants in the new opening phase that have purchased equipment without even developing a menu. This is a great example of putting the cart before the proverbial horse.

Your menu has to work with the equipment and space you have. If you do not have adequate storage, it’s going to be hard to be a fast casual concept that focuses on freshness, especially with a large menu and limited space to prep and store product. You team will do their best, but eventually, you might notice your turnover rate creeping up.

Is your cooking line designed with flow in mind? This is an element many owners never consider. You need to track the flow of every item on your menu from start to finish. How many stations does it jump through to get completed? How many people on the line have to add a component to finish the dish? Generally, the more hands, the more possible problems.

Wording

Are you talking to the guest or down to the guest? Many a foolish chef has uttered these words: “The guest just doesn’t get it.” Exactly. You just hit the head on the nail and won the prize for discovering the obvious. If your guests don’t get it, they won't buy it.

Here is where ego and foolish pride get a lot of owners. It’s easy to say you want to be “true to your brand.” Well, here is the reality — brands change and evolve. Many restaurants have closed their doors because of these shifts and because the owner could (or would) not adapt to the changing market.

You have a vision for what your restaurant is. Your guests have a vision of what your restaurant should be, and more importantly, what they will spend their money on. Somewhere in the middle is where your restaurant needs to be.

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Goldilocks and the Menu

You know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The little girl roams in the woods and finds the house of the three bears, where she helps herself to food and lodging with the dilemma of finding the right one. This story is a great reminder to talk about the size of your menu. How many items are too much? How small can you go? These are complex questions that go hand-in-hand with additional questions that were mentioned earlier.  

What is your style of service? Fast casual? Full service? If you want to be a fast casual, then remember that the word “fast” is in the name. Now, the fast casual concept is very popular, yet too many new restaurants jump on the trend without really thinking out the size of the menu. There are some that attempt to have a full-service-sized menu in their small fast casual space. In short? Not the best idea.

What equipment is on your line? If you don't have enough prep area, storage space, and firepower on your line, your menu might be too much for the setup you have.

What is your average ticket time? Slow ticket times are an indication of a few issues. The line flow might be not thought-out very well, and as a result, could lead to many bottlenecks occurring on the line (whether they be too many stations or too many steps toward the final dish), and ultimately delaying service.

The team members themselves could be the issue, if they have low skill sets, poor training, or lack of leadership. What skill level is your staff? Do you have experienced staff or do you employ more first-time workers? Your menu can only go as fast as the team can keep up.

Data Tells the Truth

Your point-of-sales reports hold a wealth of data, that when extracted, analyzed, and acted upon, can be very profitable. You just need to trust that process. It’s like a pilot who is trained to fly by instruments and not rely on what their eyes see. There have been many air crashes by pilots who thought they knew better than the data coming in from their instrument panel. Many restaurants have closed their door because owners ignored the warning signs from their product mix reports.

Your reports tell you exactly what your guests are spending their money on. Listen and create menu items that are more in line with the items that are popular. Stop trying to outthink or overthink the dynamics of your menu. The evidence is right there in your point-of-sale reports — you just have to drop the ego and pay attention.

Your menu should be like the line in that old Commodores song, “Easy like Sunday morning.” If you struggle every day to manage prep production, orders, and ticket time, then it is time to ask yourself, “Is your menu too aggressive for your market?” If your answer is yes, then take action and make some changes.