If there’s one thing that makes a restaurant attractive to customers, it’s the food. Sure, the fancy decor, long-established name, great location, and terrific customer service contribute to the success of your restaurant, but it’s the food that keeps people coming back.
There are many reasons why restaurant owners should consider changing food menu items. Aside from the fact that it gives your business an edge over competitors, it equally provides cost-effective alternatives and fresh innovative choices for adventurous patrons looking for in-season tastes.
However, changing your restaurant menu is not as easy as counting 1-2-3, and it should be done in a careful and precise way to avoid disastrous consequences. After all, there’s a good old saying that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
As a restaurant owner, you need to carefully study the current market, needs and wants of customers, working budget, and business goals before making any changes. Here are some tips to consider when doing restaurant menu planning.
The effects of trends on your menu
The taste buds of your customers are ever changing. They might fancy Asian dishes today and opt for healthier options tomorrow, or choose Mexican burritos for lunch and a cheeseburger for dinner. Your menu should go along with these changes, and you should welcome trendy dishes in your restaurant to prevent customers from going into other shops just to fulfill their cravings.
One important step to planning a great menu is to first know what’s “in” and what’s “out” within the food industry. You need to determine the popular food craze that makes people queue. The easiest way to do this is to follow industry leaders and tag along with their food exploration. Check out websites like Toast or the National Restaurant Association to discover the latest food items.
- Do an in-house survey from your customers by giving out comment cards.
- Change doesn’t need to be big, test a specific dish and include it on your menu.
- Take advantage of the season; do a summer menu or have seasonal specials.
How to keep pricing in check
When it comes to menu planning, keep in mind that cost is relative to several factors such as market condition and availability of resources. For example, you can’t serve an affordable salmon meal if the price of seafood is skyrocketing due to a recent typhoon or low seasonal catch. The same thing goes for vegetables when there’s a calamity or flood in the area supplying raw produce.
Remember that market research is important for you to determine what’s profitable and what’s not. Do an in-depth analysis to see where you stand with regards to restaurant pricing. Instead of raising prices for popular menu options, consider changing portion size and offer alternative items to control food cost. The key here is to maximize restaurant profits, and you can do this by:
- Performing a yearly audit to check revenues and expenses.
- Modifying and updating the menu to capitalize on cost-effectiveness.
- Comparing prices against competitors, and adjusting costs accordingly.
The perfect frequency for updating your menu
Another tip for restaurant menu planning is to know when the right time is to revamp your menu. In the food industry, there is no one-size-fits-all rule because every restaurant has its own diverse needs and conditional requirements.
While there is no specific answer on how often should you change the menu, a good rule of thumb would be at least once a year, or when you see the need for modification.
The season plays a huge part in updating your food and beverage offerings. Depending on the type of cuisine you serve and the location of your restaurant, changing your menu according to season gives your customers a great way to satisfy bodily cravings fit for the current time of year.
Additionally, change your menu according to food ingredient prices and availability.
- During summer, offer cool and water-rich items such as fruit and seasonal refreshments.
- Consider serving warm and hearty meals when the winter season kicks in.
- If signature dishes are not in season, provide your customers alternative food choices.
Maintain your identity throughout all of the changes
Menu planning is without a doubt challenging. For many restaurant owners, there is an underlying fear that they will lose their identity if the menu is changed every so often. But with the right marketing, preparation, and planning, changing your menu won’t hurt your restaurant’s individuality, as long as you are offering the same kind of experience you are known for.
To avoid losing your identity, keep your most popular dishes and specialty items untouched. If you have a specific dish that makes people come back, don’t dare make any changes to keep customers happy and content. Playing the odds for the sake of novelty isn’t worth it for top performing items that brings cash to the register. Retaining your staff is likewise helpful to remain consistent. Together with customer service and ambiance, it contributes to the totality of your restaurant.
- Offer new side dishes instead of changing the whole entree.
- Be creative and play with flavors especially on seasonal offerings.
- Always notify customers when you modify food items.
Change doesn’t have to be too hard
Restaurant menu planning should be done in a slow and steady manner. Don’t be in a hurry to offer new selections and never rush things unless there’s an actual need to release it as soon as possible. To make change easy, try offering menu specials for a limited time period. This way, you can gauge the reception of your patrons before they become a permanent part of your menu.
Along with your ultimate goal to keep food costs down and keep customers coming back, it is also wise to use printable menus instead of expensive laminated ones. This allows you to swap menus as frequently as possible, without worrying about the cost. And, when listing specials, like those in season and trial ones, use chalkboards instead of putting them on your main menu so you can simply change them later on.
Some more tips to consider:
- Try implementing new technology; digital menu boards are inexpensive and easily available.
- Stay consistent everywhere and update your digital platforms and social channels.
- Don’t forget to train your employees for any changes in the menu or when adding specials.