From the front line: Concise is nice

From the front line: Concise is nice

I’m fortunate enough to have just spent a couple of weeks in New Zealand and Australia with the family visiting old haunts and new. I will be reporting back on what new and exciting things are happening in the antipodes over the next few months.

In stark contrast to the sometimes sprawling restaurant menus of the UK, one thing I have noticed is shorter, concise menus in Kiwi and Aussie cafés. Whether it is to do with small kitchens, limited supply lines or narrow tastes of the clientele, the trend got me thinking.

What’s the right number of items to offer in your restaurant, coffee shop sandwich bar or café? The answer depends, of course, on your particular concept, market position, customer expectations and likely many other factors. However, we should all be mindful not to over extend the size and scope of our menus if it’s not necessary.

As your menu grows so does the complexity of your kitchen and the required skill set (and training) of your kitchen staff. And don’t forget the impact on your front of house staffs’ collective memory power!

Expansive menus mean more products must be purchased, prepped, portioned and kept in stock. We never want to run out of an item and keeping on top of food costs and quality is an ongoing challenge. There are plenty of practical reasons to keep your menu to a manageable level of items. But the principal also pays dividends!

Many of you would have heard of the 80/20 rule where 20% of sales account for 80% of profits. Well, the 80/20 rule applies to menus too. When we have evaluated our best menu sellers in the past, the top three or four sellers in drinks, cooked meals and hot beverages, consistently account for 60% or more of each menu category’s sales.

So, maybe these antipodean restaurateurs are onto something! Why have a dozen options of everything when six or seven will satisfy the tastes of the vast majority of your customers and will add up to about the same amount of sales?

Have a look at your sales in each area of your menu. Which items are unpopular with your guests? Think about simplifying your kitchen by dropping some of your slow sellers, especially if they contain products that aren’t used in other recipes. That will reduce the number of products you purchase and have to keep on your shelves and in the fridge.

When we’ve done it in the past, very few guests noticed (obvious exception – Nutella French Toast Man!); in fact, the effect was overwhelmingly positive. We simplified the management of our kitchen, reduced our costs and enhanced the quality of the food leaving the kitchen. The fact that we could serve less of everything much faster led to even more happy guests!