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The Incredible Shrinking Menu

Our consultants say, the trend is smaller and smaller menus

By Sarah Ann Noel - September 20, 2017


It's not hard to spot a trend across all the major foodie cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Chicago, London--and even our own Denver food scene: The incredible shrinking menu. At first, it was high-end restaurants, offering a select few plates, perhaps switching them out seasonally. But lately, even chain restaurants, like Chili's, have been getting attention for slashing menus. What's the strategy there?

"The menu is the most important piece of real estate in your restaurant," says National Restaurant Consultants president David Kincheloe. "Most people see it as a list of foods you want the guest to purchase, but that's only true to an extent. It's a presentation of culinary options."

Wait. Isn't that the same thing? It's a subtle difference, of course; but the sublety is the trick. "This small difference in framing makes a huge difference in profitability."

For example, studies show that guests will typically pay 12 percent more for the same dish if it has a fancier name--guests don't just want a meal, the want an experience. Experts have also found fault with the trendier, minimalist food descriptions. While chefs value the importance of purity, guests prefer definition. In fact, sales in some restaurants have increased nearly 30 percent after editing food descriptions to better explain dishes.

So when it comes to the size of the menu, it stands to reason that guest satisfaction actually lies in, not trying to please everyone, but in directing them to something available that they'll surely love. "You please your guests in doing a few things exceptionally," Kincheloe says. Don't grow your menu--perfect the presentation. 

And this won't only improve the guest experience. A proper menu organization can direct your guests' eyes to the higher-priced meals increasing your business. Yes, rearranging your menu makes you more money.

"The menu is actually driving the restaurant," explains Kincheloe. It effects guest satisfaction, food costs, and labor efficiency. "Cross-utilize your ingredients to not only save in food costs, but labor costs in food prep time. It requires less labor, but it's also less pressure on your staff, making a healthier work environment too."

Our restaurant consultants are experts in predicting trends and in menu development. To be in touch with a consultant, contact us here

Photo by Kirill Zakharov on Unsplash