Why Your Menu Needs Less Items and More Customization

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

“Menuing” is the popular buzzword today in the restaurant industry. It’s about catering to customers’ needs more than ever before by creating a simpler menu. Burger King may have had it right way back in 1974 when they advertised, “Have it your way.” From McDonald’s all-day breakfast to Panera’s clean-eating choices, eateries are giving diners what they want, when they want it, how they want it.

Ramping Up by Slimming Down

Menus are becoming leaner. Gone are the days of a phone book-sized menu (Cheesecake Factory gets a pass on this one!). It’s all about a few simple ingredients that are fresher—possibly locally sourced—used in a variety of ways. And as menus shrink, the focus is on better quality meals.

Take chicken. One simple ingredient that can be prepared in a number of ways to appeal to a wide range of customers—grilled chicken salad, chicken breast sandwich, chicken tortilla wrap. This is called the “plus one” approach.

Fewer menu items, used to create inventive dishes, are used to cross all mealtimes during the day—breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

Paring Down to Profitability

Growth for restaurateurs once meant expanding to new locations. Menuing is the new way to increase profits with minimal investment. With fewer ingredients to purchase and manage—based on a slimmer menu—you have the flexibility to customize without spending more on a wider variety of items.

Gone are the days where you have to put “cannot be substituted” on your menu. Instead, restaurants like Chipotle allow customers to build their own meal with basic ingredients from their menu. It’s an assembly line to gourmet experience and a great way to increase customer satisfaction.

Not only are you better serving customers with higher quality choices, you are using a simple tactic to drive profits with little to no overhead.

According to a report from Datassential, the average menu size for U.S. restaurants is the smallest it’s been in eight years. The restaurant trend expert added that new restaurants average about 60 items, while those who have been in the game awhile average 92. But the tide is changing.

As menus shrink, prices are being impacted by meeting in the middle. Today, the sweet spot for pricing is falling into the fast casual space. Quick service restaurants (QSRs) such as Subway are slowly increasing their prices to match that of Corner Bakery and Cosi—justified by the introduction of better quality ingredients. Casual dine-in, such as Applebee’s and TGI Fridays, are lowering prices to make the experience more attractive for diners, especially with the introduction of $10 all-you-can-eat apps.

Healthier Choices—A Marketing Advantage

The drive to healthy options has been on the rise for some time. That healthy option model was typically based on subtracting ingredients—salt, fat, sugar.

The new model is all about adding quality ingredients to existing meals—grains, quinoa and the like—or switching out options such as carrots instead of chips. Taking a step further, restaurants are offering all-natural choices and antibiotic-free foods while eliminating artificial or genetically modified ingredients. Chipotle and Panera are leading the trend, but QSRs such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are following suit.

It’s All About Choices

Menuing is a driving force behind other trends such as ordering options, delivery capabilities and ways to pay—again, all about giving the customer what they want, how they want it.

Ordering Preferences

  • Online and mobile ordering provides convenience for customers. From Starbucks to Taco Bell, there’s an app for that.
  • Self-ordering kiosks are popping up in fast casual restaurants and QSRs alike—Panera and McDonald’s. The customer upside? Reduced time waiting in line. Your upside? Less staff needed.
  • Ordering ahead for rapid in-store or curbside pickup is a big trend as well—again, creating customer convenience.

Delivery Capabilities

  • Dining in is just one way that restaurants are serving up options.
  • Takeout is still big—but the twist is that the food is just as fresh and appealing as dining in.
  • Delivery—who doesn’t love pizza on a Friday night or game day? There are days you just don’t want to leave the couch.
  • Catering has become a major revenue staple for fast casuals such as Panera and Corner Bakery.
  • Have a limited delivery area? Consider partnering with take-out operations like Take-Out Taxi to expand your delivery capabilities.

Payment Options

  • Smart devices allow customers at restaurants like Chili’s to pay at the table. The credit card stays in the customer’s control, and the server makes fewer trips just to get a payment processed.
  • Mobile payments mean quicker lines—especially with the implementation of EMV. Paying with a smartphone may shave only seconds off the transaction, but in a fast-paced world, standing there while a chip card is read can be a bit exasperating. Watch for mobile payments to be on the rise.

A Menu of Options

Endorsed by the National Restaurant Association and 46 state restaurant associations, Heartland is a trusted business solutions provider to restaurants of all sizes. As trends emerge, Heartland is at the forefront with business solutions, education and customer advocacy. For more information, visit our website.

In our next issue, we’ll follow up on the menuing trend with how technology, legislation and labor each play a role. Stay tuned!