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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Menu Planning and Strategy

Our industry is experiencing a shift in the demand curve. Restaurant goers are downsizing from upscale to casual, casual to fast casual and fast casual to QSR and take-out. The regular patrons at many family owned restaurants are watching their checks and eliminating an appetizer or dessert course. If you have a lower priced entree on your menu, you may find the popularity on the increase.

Most of the menu analysis and menu engineering models were built during a time of solid annual growth for our industry. These models focus on high gross margin entrees loved by patrons. Blindly using these models to adjust menu prices may hurt your bottom line. These models are designed to eliminate low gross margin menu items if the popularity is low.

Rather than completely eliminating these dogs, you may want to repackage these items. Take them off your printed menu and try them as budget specials. You may find a winner or two.

The stars need to get your full attention. Are your guests still selecting the reliable cash cows? You may see the high gross margin items slipping in popularity. Chef Mario Batali (one of my favorite chefs) was quoted in a USA Today article: "There's less caviar, foie gras and truffles, but they're still there. They're just not on nine courses. They're on one course." This same article highlights other chefs who have decided to offer more price points for their patrons.

Expense accounts are being scrutinized at every major S&P 500 company. The current earnings season on Wall Street shows companies are slashing costs.

The wine lists are offering guests fewer trophy bottles as demand for the $200 plus bottle of wine has collapsed. Many restaurants religiously ordered their annual commitment from the same boutique vineyards without regard to consumption. Now, these wine cellars are loaded with these high cost bottles. Many have decided to end this practice and they are moving these bottles by the glass.

Are there ways to produce the same gross margins in this new era? Yes. You need more turns on busy nights. Offer early bird specials, table d'hote options, and popular add-ons for your popular menu items. Promote seasonal ingredients which typically offer lower cost of sales.

Customer knowledge (including dining out budgets) leads to effective menu planning efforts. Rather than completely revamping your current menu, you may find a few strategic revisions will help you meet your targets.


Business Success Guide said...

Joe, Yes there is a shift and fortunately tech tools now available let a restaurant listen like never before to fine tune a menu vs. the old days. It will be interesting to see a menu in 5 years with the population of baby boomers becoming ever more conscious of diet and health. :)

Joe Dunbar said...

The menu mix is definitely changing as the baby boomers become more nutrition conscious. There will most likely be a split between places people go to splurge and break their routine and places where people will go more than once a week to get a more nutritious meal.

The transition has begun with ethnic restaurant menus designed with vegetable rich items.


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