If veteran restaurateurs learn anything in the course of maintaining a successful business, it’s that menu design directly impacts your brand, costs, and operations.
While food is not the number one driver of return visits — overall experience and rewards of choice are — what you choose to feature on your menu has an enormous effect on your bottom line. Menu design can make the difference between success out of the gate or falling behind the crowd.
At this year’s National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, chef and restaurant consultant Patrick Weber of Mise en Place Consulting took to the stage to share his thoughts on the art and science of menu design.
Understanding that your menu is the key touch point for determining your brand, costs, and operational needs, it’s important to carefully consider how you design daily, weekly, or seasonal offerings because the function and profit of your restaurant flows out of these choices.
It’s about your brand.
More than your website or your dining room, your menu is likely the very first (and longest lasting) impression a diner will have of your restaurant. It projects your brand out to the market you want to attract and solidifies it in their minds. For that reason, it is critical to reflect what interests them as diners — what’s going to literally tickle their taste buds — rather than your personal style.
Make sure your menu is accessible and easy to read, with clean type, easily understood descriptions, and clear organization. No one wants to feel stupid or confused when out for a pleasurable evening or hosting a business colleague over lunch.
Curtail your offerings to just those that speak to your brand and avoid filling the page with dishes that are either short-term trends or that don’t work well alongside the other menu items. No one restaurant should aspire to be everything to everybody.
A menu with fewer, well-executed items will not only allow consumers to absorb — and share — their experience more effectively, but will also enable you to keep productivity high and costs low with faster turn times and less variables to manage.
It’s about your costs.
Conventional wisdom is that 80 percent of your profits as a restaurant come from about 20 percent of your menu items. Every menu has its popular items and its dust-gatherers, but do you actually know which is which?
Conducting an audit of your menu against sales of each item every 6 months can show you exactly where cuts can be made to a bloated menu. Even dishes that sell moderately well should be reviewed to see if they pan out financially.
Ask yourself: Does any dish on your menu contain an ingredient not necessary for any other dish? Are any of them more time- or space-consuming than others, and how often are they ordered? Are all of your dishes even profitable?
If the goal is to spend no more than 35 cents for every dollar you charge for a menu item, it’s important to periodically cost out your entire menu to make sure everything you offer your customers falls into a profit margin you’re comfortable with.
It’s also important to avoid the slippery slope of over-portioning and stay true to what you are marketing. If your menu reads “8 ounce sirloin,” consistently providing your diners with 9, 10, or 11 ounces of meat will end up costing you too high a price with no benefit (the customer won’t know it’s more than 8 ounces, because that’s what the menu said).
It’s about your operations.
Believe it or not, your menu design defines a lot more about the physical space and operational needs of your restaurant than you may think. An overly ambitious menu (both in size and level of difficulty in execution) can be an unnecessary strain on your staff and facilities, often leading to increasing costs that could otherwise be mitigated.
Is everyone on your staff up to the task of what you want to sell? Is the talent available in your market for in-house butchery or house-made desserts? And if not, do you have the time and resources for training?
Aligning your menu design around the kitchen equipment available to you is one way to increase efficiency and profitability. Conducting a facility audit — where you determine storage, refrigeration, and preparation area needs, eliminate bottlenecks, and balance your menu items across a physical space — can impact the quality (and quantity) of the food you serve immensely.
Then, if you determine a new piece of equipment is needed, balance that cost against the wasted time and labor involved in working around the problem.
If short-term cash is a problem, consider a merchant cash advance to help get your kitchen to peak efficiency. Your long-term profitability benefits every time you take an opportunity to fail off the table.
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