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Menu Planning: Change for Change’s Sake?

With spring in the air, are you planning on rolling out a new menu? Do you change your menu with the seasons or with the wind? Is it a moveable feast in constant flux? Take Stock investigates if menu change or stability holds the key to increased profits.

Whether your business is a Michelin starred restaurant or a high street sandwich bar, your menu will have its ‘stars’ and its ‘workhorses’. Stars are customer favourites with a high profit yield and workhorses are favourites but with a lower profit contribution. Either way, you’d be foolhardy to let these dishes off your menu when updating it.

Given that you already have these staples taking up actual menu and kitchen work station space, your room for change is physically limited. In turn, this can limit your need for change, enabling you to retain a menu that alters little in its basic format. According to Phil Leverington, of  Yorkshire-based restaurant consultancy No Reservations, which works throughout the country helping food businesses boost their profitability, the key to a profitable menu is not how often you change it but rather how focused it is to your customer.

Explains Phil: “In developing their menu, a lot of restaurateurs, publicans and other food business proprietors lose sight of who their customer is. To be successful, yes you have to serve attractive food. You have to have variety but at the same time, you have to earn your customers’ trust. People generally like well prepared food, sourced locally, served to them hot and fresh from the kitchen.

“You can best achieve this by keeping your basic menu small and devoted to your most popular items. I’d recommend five entrees, five mains, five desserts. You then have the space on your menu to fully describe each dish, which you have the time and space to prepare properly. To increase your offering, you can always let customers know that entrees can be served as mains too.”

Continues Phil, who also works as demonstration chef: “Keep your best sellers – your sausage and mash and fish and chips but support them with something like a pigeon breast salad on a specials board, which can be updated as often as you like with dishes using seasonal ingredients or ingredients you were able to source at a good price and/or which also recognise times of celebration or occasion from St Valentine’s Day through to Christmas.

“In putting new dishes on the menu, you’re trying to find future best sellers so don’t be too experimental unless you have rosettes to your name. If you’re a café or pub, you are what you are and your customers have an expectation of you already. It’s better that you meet or exceed that expectation by doing a good job. If I see a pub with a huge menu, I assume I’m just going to be served a microwaved pre-packaged meal because as a customer, I know that you don’t have the kitchen space or brigade to get that food to me any other way. If it’s a basic small menu with the strapline ‘all food cooked fresh to order’, I’m much more excited. I have greater trust in the kitchen, its ability, its sourcing, everything. If I enjoy my food, I’m coming back. If the menu hasn’t changed, that doesn’t matter because if I liked the steak and ale pie I had last time, I’ll most likely enjoy the fish pie staple or sausage and mash staple this time because it’s made on the premises by the same people using the same good local ingredients”

So while change can be good, changing for change’s sake isn’t necessarily the way to improve turn-over.

Change for the better – Phil’s menu advice:

  • Support a good basic menu of customer favourites with an updated specials board. That way, you’re changing the board and using that to test new dishes rather than losing any house stars or workhorses.
  • Don’t overload your menu (specials board included) with too may choices but rather allow customers to take ownership of it i.e. if you run a sandwich bar, offer customers a laminated menu of filling and garnish options and give them a whiteboard pen so they tick choices to customise their sandwich. Do the same for children if you have a separate children’s menu so they can tick whether they want beans, peas or broccoli with their fish or meat, chips or mashed potatoes. It’s a fun thing that gives your premises some personality.
  • If you have a steak and ale pie staple, make it part of a pie offering on your menu alongside the likes of fish pie and chicken and leek pie. This increases your variety but not your workload as all the pies can be waiting to be baked off in your fridge and the chances are, if a customer likes one, they’ll appreciate the others too.
  • Gain customers’ trust by properly describing dishes even to the point of saying where you buy your meat, fish and vegetables if you buy them locally.
  • For such ‘free’ menu advertising, negotiate yourself a discount with your local butcher, fishmonger etc on the grounds that you are encouraging custom for him/her from your clients (ask for say 5% off your order).

For further information on No Reservations, telephone Phil on 01751 798278.

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