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Is it a good idea to shrink our Italian restaurant’s menu by 15-30%?

We currently have 60 entrees and 24 soup/salad/apps. We are known for our pizza, so we have a full pizza section which includes 6 sizes, 2 types of dough, 33 toppings, calzones, strombolis, 6 specialty pizzas, 7 sandwiches, beer, wine, and standard beverages.Which is better, 50 items or 100?

If you ask me, you need to eliminate 2/3rds of your menu. Big menus mean big waste, big inventory, big kitchen staff, big cost control issues, big ticket times and big confusion for your customers.

One thing to keep in mind with a restaurant. You are only ever going to be as profitable as your peak dining periods. Meaning….  when you have a large menu, you can not serve as many customers in any given period of time. With a large menu, people take longer to order. Big menus clutter POS’s, making the average time to input a ticket longer. They mean more prep for the kitchen, resulting in more kitchen employees in earlier to prep, and more employees on the line to produce too many different types of food. Even with more employees on the line, it takes longer to produce food when you have less multiple orders of the same items being made at the same time. All this extra time means you can’t serve as many people during your peak periods, which is where 80-90% of your revenue, and 100% of your profit is made. If you can increase your customer counts during peak periods by 10%, then you can increase your profit by more than 10%.

From a customer viewpoint, more choices doesn’t mean you’ll get more regulars because you have so much to choose from that people will keep coming back to try everything. That is a huge misnomer among owners and managers, that perpetuates the use of large, inefficient menus. More choices on a menu for customers means more confusion about who you are, what your specialities are, and why they should like you better than the Italian restaurant down the road.

Simply put, more choices isn’t better for business, it’s worse.

As far as what’s better, 50 items or 100? Neither. They’re both way too many. If you want to be known for having great food, you need to have a limited number of items, that stand out to people each on their own merit. If you have 4 or 5 great menu items that stand out from your others, people may remember them if there are only 10 or 15 surrounding them. If you bury them under 60 other items, people are less likely to remember what it was they had that was so great, and they’ll be less equipped to sell their friends on how great your food is. Confusing your customers isn’t good for business.

Stripping down a menu isn’t hard to do. The hardest part is convincing yourself it’s a good idea when you believe that more=better. Simply take your sales mix report, and eliminate most the items on the bottom half of your report that aren’t selling as much. Within the top half, keep all your top sellers, then make a list of what kitchen station those items are prepared in, saute, grill, fry, cold, etc. Use your top sellers, and a selection of the rest of the items you haven’t already eliminated to create a menu that balances your menu between each of your production stations. When you finish, I would suggest having NO MORE than 20 main course dishes, including sandwiches (10-15 would be better, I would eliminate the sandwiches altogether), 4-6 starters and 2-3 salads. If you are known for your pizza, then pizza should maybe make up 2/3rds of your main course selections. 6 sizes of pizzza is ridiculous though. Any more than 3 is complicating things unnecessarily. You could even think about going to only 1 individual adult size, and 1 individual kid size. This, and eliminating the sandwiches on your menu would greatly increase your average gross profit per item sold.

Stop worrying about trying to be everything to all your customers. While you should still accomodate special requests if possible, you should make sure you are charging a special price for that accomodation, and you also shouldn’t be encouraging them. Your servers and your kitchen staff don’t like it, regardless of what they tell you. It makes their job harder. If you cut your menu down, you are more likely to gain new customers, than to lose old ones. Take this statement to heart, THERE IS NO CUSTOMER OF YOURS THAT ORDERS ALL 60-80 MENU ITEMS. They WILL NOT be dissapointed enough about losing a few options to quit dining with you, especially if they are regulars, and especially if you train your staff to explain that your reduction in choices helps you give them better food, better service, and serve more people.

Discourage the ordering of those old menu items, clean up your POS, simplify your training, and make your operation capable of serving more people during your peak times. Your employees and your pocketbook will thank you.

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About friendthatcooks

Food service consultant and owner/operator of an in-home weekly meal prep service in Kansas City, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha, Des Moines, Denver, Milwaukee and Wichita

Posted on March 6, 2008, in Questions and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. It is easy to think that some pasta, some marinara sauce, a crust of Italian bread and a glass of wine is the beginning and end of Italian cuisine, especially if you grew up in the United States. When an American conjures up an idea of “Italian cuisine,” often what comes to mind is pasta, red sauce, and garlic bread. There is much more than red sauce and starch on the agenda for most Italian regional cuisines.

  2. It depends on your customers..If most of your customers do not order a third of your menu then it is better to remove them from your menu

  3. chuck angelopulos

    more items= more prep+more waste = more food and labor costs!

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