You probably got into the restaurant industry because you love food, right? You’ve come up with a great concept and menu, there are customers in your seats, and you’ve developed some regulars. But how do you keep customers coming back for more?
The restaurant and food industries are an ever-changing landscape of ideas, food, and flavors rushing together, with fads that last a day and methods that are used for centuries. Change is imminent in these industries because consumers get bored and are ready to move on to the latest and greatest concept. Restaurants that are complacent with their food offerings are doomed to lose the public’s interest.
Customers look for new, fresh, and exciting items to order when they come to your restaurant. And unless you’re a famous mom and pop diner that has had the same menu items since 1953, it doesn’t matter how great your food is. Changing your menu will help entertain regular customers and attract new ones, which will put your restaurant in a sweet spot for innovation.
To keep your profits and restaurant in the green, doing a menu analysis is worth the time and manpower. Think of it like a professional sports team; you have your all-stars, rookies, regular starters, and the players who just aren’t quite cutting it. Look at these so-so players before you trade them for something that will perform better. Is there any way you could rearrange them to help them perform like changing their price point, the season you’re in, etc.? If the answer is no, make room on your menu for an item than can do the job and keep you profitable. Take the opportunity to analyze the following about items on your menu:
- What’s doing well on your menu?
- What hasn’t been popular?
- Is a dish costing you too much?
- Are you making enough on a dish?
- Are these ingredients too seasonal to keep the item profitable all year round?
Answering these questions can help you really put each of your menu items under a microscope and analyze their performance in your restaurant. It is important to pull your general manager and purchaser in on the breakdown to help you through the process of what stays and goes. Don’t forget to also consider what your waitstaff thinks since they will be the ones “selling” your menu to customers. By being on the front lines, your waitstaff are also helpful in gauging customer reaction and how often they convert to the new items.
Keep in mind, these menu analyses should be conducted once a year (at minimum) for price and twice a year for seasonal items. Revisiting old and new items will keep your restaurant on top of what the hot items really are and what’s working when you introduce seasonal items.
Changing your menu does not mean going back to square one, and it’s important to keep fan favorites around. If your restaurant is best known for its burgers, don’t replace them with poke bowls. But, what you could do is add a barrage of new toppings for your burgers. Add pineapple, mac and cheese, or a specialty sauce. Get creative! This will keep your burgers interesting and lessen the chance customers will grow tired of stagnant fare.
It’s easier now than it ever has been to let your customers know what to expect when they eat at your restaurants. According to OpenTable, “86 percent of diners regularly check out menus online before dining out”, which could make or break their decision. Use Facebook or your website to post your regular menu and hype new specials, allowing new and old customers alike to stay in the know about what they can expect when they make a trip.
Make it Special.
Another way you can switch up your menu without recreating the wheel is to add a specials list. This can be where your seasonal and new items are housed while leaving the rest of your menu as it is. By only changing up a handful of appetizers, entrees, and desserts, you can have a consistent purchasing strategy and only worry about oddball ingredients with what’s going on the special portion of your menu. It can also allow you a section to play with trends, without going all in.
Changing up your menu should not be limited to only food items. A cocktail list is a great space to enhance your profits with seasonal or trendy items. Like with food, you don’t have to completely order new ingredients for these drinks, just add a splash of seasonal flavor. Add peppermint during the holidays, pumpkin or apple in the fall, or even more tropical fruits like pineapple or mango in the summer. People are more likely to shell out for the added expense of a seasonal drink over a dish to get in the “spirit of the season”, making the right seasonal cocktail lineup a must. If you don’t already have a revolving door of drinks, drink menus should be updated at least quarterly to give guests something new to try.
Varying your menu based can help bring in new customers but still maintain regulars. Online promotion, special lists, and rotating drink menus, along with regular menu analysis, can help your restaurant stay vibrant and profitable for years to come.