The trend in fine-dining restaurants is to have menus limited to a smaller number of items and to rotate them based on a few things, such as…
• The time of the year.
• What seems to be selling.
• New entrees the Chef has fallen in love with
• What’s available from vendors.
More restaurants are moving to this concept, which emphasizes doing what you do best and eliminating the extras. The trend has been away from trying to be everything to everyone, and instead intensifying the message and concept of the restaurant. This has worked for restaurants around the country, and could be the winning recipe for your restaurant in the future.
Keep it Simple
Keeping it simple is great life advice, and it’s becoming increasingly great restaurant operation advice. Simple menus help focus the kitchen on “wow!” entrees, those dishes that keep guests returning with an idea of what they want. They make it more possible for a restaurant to be known for an individual item or concept, and cultivate creating a market niche when doesn’t already exist.
Keeping it simple has worked for steakhouse concepts, southern comfort food restaurants, and gourmet pizza joints, because people tend to know what they’re getting before they leave the house. A great, simplified menu coupled with superior atmosphere and high quality service implies that each entrée will be excellent, and ensures guests that a smaller menu improves quality, instead of limiting options.
A simple menu can be a one-pager printed on card stock. These have many advantages to the restaurant, including…
• They’re easier to re-print or change.
• They allow for larger fonts and personalization.
• They get guests thinking about food right away.
• They’re easier to store at the hostess stand.
One-pagers imply the sense that it’s all about the food by eliminating the fat and getting right down to what’s good to eat. Increasingly, this immediate gratification mindset is the way people think in a restaurant environment.
Improve the Kitchen
Reducing the menu can streamline the entire kitchen by reducing inventory, establishing more secure, less-fluctuating costs, and helping to eliminate waste. It can re-direct the focus of the Chef and Sous onto what’s really important: developing a great kitchen staff that produces consistently great food. Smaller menus make inventory counting quicker, and produce more controllable costs that make it easier to determine the source of high food costs.
The evil that many kitchens have uncovered when reducing the menu lies in plate-and-table costs, which are harder to obscure when the menu is simple. When wastes are eliminated by a downsized menu, it becomes clearer that food costs can be controlled with caution and portion control. This is hard to do in a kitchen trying to be all things to all people. But when the menu is simple, kitchen managers have an easier time mastering the basics of efficiency and cost management.
Give it a Name
Concerned about reaching the same number of guests when downsizing the menu? Give it a name. Naming menus has worked in different restaurant concepts around the country by marshalling word-of-mouth and giving people something to talk about when they talk about your restaurant. There are examples everywhere:
• X items under $X: This works by pulling standard entrees from the regular menu and highlighting their cost.
• Local’s Best: A special menu that incorporates local vendors who offer fresh ingredients. Brand tie-in is a great way to reduce costs.
• Alliteration: Sam’s Signatures or Frank’s Features. This can be a special menu around which a larger menu can be built, or other items can still be available.
A catchy name helps operators market their brand where it counts most: in their own building. A successful menu that has a four-word-or-less name gives guests something to say when they’re recommending the restaurant to friends and family.