Even in the most buoyant market you need to keep updating your menu, so during the recession it has been more important than ever. It can be hard to know what to change and what to keep when you’ve not kept up-to-date records, so here are a few tips for reassessing your menu to keep your restaurant popular and profitable.
Involve Your CustomersThe first rule of thumb is that people don’t like change. Although they do like change if they feel involved, so ask your customers what they like and don’t like about your menu. Everybody likes giving their opinion, so either leave little cards on the tables (offer a free drink next time if they fill in the card) or ask people as they order.
Do Your ResearchYou mustn’t waste the valuable information you can gather about your customers and their preferences, so even if you haven’t done this before now, this is the best time to start. Keep details of how many of each dish is sold, what side dishes are ordered and the demographic of the customer. Cross reference this with the cost price of the dish (encourage your head chef to take responsibility for costing, including staff and utilities). You can then introduce specials using the same cost-analysis and see how practical they would be as an addition to your menu.
Check Wastage LevelsA major cost for restaurants that’s often overlooked is wastage. It’s very common for a restaurant to price a dish at say $12 because the ingredients cost $4, but they do not factor in the wastage costs when a third of the ingredients need to be thrown away. Far better to develop a menu that makes the most of your ingredients, so mashed potato with sausages one day can be used as a topping for individual pies the next, or fresh baguettes one day can be used to top French onion soup the next. While you never want your ingredients to look ‘left over’, if you plan carefully it will look like you planned it that way.
Keep Open MindedA common mistake for restaurant owners is to do the same dishes the same way without thinking of how current trends are changing the habits of their customers. That’s not to say that you want to be constantly changing your menu so that you don’t get to build up a reputation, but you do need to be aware of the demands of your customers.
For example, the trend of the early nineties to have big plates piled high with food is no longer in tune with today’s consciousness of healthier eating. Although people still like to treat themselves when they go out for dinner, a heap of fried food is no longer desirable. Consider new ingredients (Mexican chillies, Japanese spices, in season local vegetables and lighter sauces), new ways of cooking (steaming rather than frying, potato wedges instead of chips) and healthier presentation (smaller portions of better quality ingredients).