’Tis almost the season. The busy season, that is. The fall months through the winter holidays are the most hectic time for many operators. During this part of the year it’s all about execution—scheduling, production, menus, specials, catering—with everything steadily moving forward. The most successful operators are also developing their new menus to kick off the upcoming year. So how do they manage both?
The key is to start now and tackle your menu analysis and development in “bite-size” chunks. Breaking everything down into smaller steps will help you complete your analysis without taking too much time, energy or manpower away from daily executional needs.
Make sure the menu fits
Narrow the scope. With menu analysis and development, the focus must be on your core menu, those items that most directly define your brand and create a unique point of market differentiation. While a menu may include specials, limited-time offers or dining experiences such as wine dinners, the core menu is usually the 20-30 items that are the driving force of your organization.
A core menu should be revised at least twice and up to four times a year. The first step to making updates is internal observation. Looking in first, via brief sharing sessions with your team, can help enable great execution once the holidays are over. Some things to consider:
- Review guest feedback to see if you have remained “fresh” in the minds of your guests.
- Conduct a session to review sales and profitability since your last revision.
- Understand the operational impact of the existing menu and how changes would impact both front and back of house (staffing, training, workflow, etc.).
Examine external insights. Gather both competitive information and menu ideas. You may not be at the decision phase yet, so don’t set boundaries. Consider the following as you develop your ideas:
- Trend vs. fad. Be thinking about consumer behavior and evolving trends over the long term, compared to fleeting behavior and trends related to recent news or popular entertainment.
- Brand alignment. Will the menu item you’re thinking about enrich or extend your brand?
- Operational testing. Has the menu item or recipe actually been tested in a commercial kitchen?
Conduct a reality check
Before you go forward, keep these things in mind:
Be wary of whiplash. As a food industry pro, you’ll be tempted to see a landscape of possibilities and want to make big changes to your daily menu. But remember the idea of taking things in bite-size chunks? Here’s something to consider: The consumer may order from your menu, on average, a couple of times per month.
Applying this knowledge to the core menu suggests that subtle changes are best. Turning over the entire menu at once is like shuffling between classical music and classic rock on your music device. Too much change too fast leads to guest whiplash as they try to keep up with your appetite for change.
Let data drive decisions. Before you design and print your menu, conduct some form of analysis. Whether we admit it or not, we all play favorites. Analyzing data provides a reality check, letting real numbers and not emotional attachment determine the value of a menu item. It’s also critical to fully understand the method used in your analysis. If you trust the process used to collect the data, you can be more certain when making business decisions based on the outcome.
Seeing the big picture
The first step to accomplishing your menu goals is to set them. By always keeping the final result in mind, it’s easier to make good decisions about the details it takes to get there, such as training, design, print and pre-launch activities during the year. Slowing everything to bite-size bursts with intentional outcomes makes it possible to bring your teams together to share the workload.
Success during the busy months ahead and the time afterward means you have to execute during the fall/holiday season for sure, while also keeping your eyes on the horizon. You can be sure that’s what your competition is trying to do.
Get a handle on your menu
If you’d like to learn more about a menu development plan or the resources available to you as a Gordon Food Service customer, contact your Sales Representative.