When it comes to your restaurant menu, the short answer is yes. One of the biggest errors I see when I’m working with restaurant operators is that they keep adding too many items to their menu. This creates several problems.
First of all, having too many items on your menu can slow down your throughput – especially if you add items that don’t fit your brand. An Italian restaurant owner I know decided to add steaks. His customers didn’t order steaks very often, so the staff didn’t do a very good job on them. And when an order would come through, they’d need to switch gears from their lasagna and fettuccini line to charbroil a steak. It mixed up their operation and kept them flopping around. Three months later, the owner took them off the menu.
The second problem is that keeping menu items with low sales can hold your inventory ransom. That is, you end up with “orphans” or ingredients that you only keep on hand for a particular dish. And if no one orders that item for a while, you’re forced to discount that meal and don’t make any money on it, or worse yet, you end up throwing out the ingredient altogether.
The third issue with too many menu items is that people start consciously thinking, “You can’t be good at everything, so what are you good at?” They have a fuzzier idea about what makes your restaurant unique and special.
And finally, there is the paradox of choice, coined by Barry Swartz, where he argues, you can have too much of a good thing, and in fact, proves that people who have too many choices will often have a hard time deciding what to order, will not be as happy with their choice and will ultimately be less satisfied with their overall experience.
One of the tools we use to help such restaurants is to develop a scatter graph or a menu matrix, where we break the products down by popularity and profit potential into one of four categories: Stars, Puzzles, Plow Horses, and Dogs. That tells us right away what’s surfacing or what’s coming toward the top in a restaurant. When we figure that out, then we can put energy behind it. We can get rid of some of the stuff that’s cluttering up the menu and really focus the business on the products that make the most money.
The magic number
We try to break everything down so that categories don’t get larger than seven. That’s the golden number. The custom consulting and research company for the food industry, Technomic, did a study on desserts a number of years ago for a customer we worked with. Their research showed that on dessert menus, seven items had the highest number of sales. Plus the customers were happier and more satisfied. They faced less indecision and were less likely to second-guess their choice and wonder if they should have ordered something else.
We find that same principle holds true for appetizers and just about every menu category. Having seven items is really pinnacle
Focus on your forté
Based on my experience, I have found that having a few menu items and knowing what you’re good at is better than just adding something because some guy down the street is doing a good job with it and you’re worried you might not be able to keep up with him. Don’t try to do everything. Focus on the food that got you where you are.
If you need help deciding which menu items will be most profitable for your restaurant, give us a call! 1-800-316-3198 X301
Mark and Kelly Laux have been working in the food industry since the mid-1980s, developing award-winning, profit-generating marketing and advertising programs promoting national brands to foodservice companies and restaurant operators all over the country.