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Is Your Menu a Cannibal?

menu design profitability Dec 26, 2017

Menu items that are very similar fight or cannibalize each other for sales. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the first thing he did was ask his team one simple question, "What products would you recommend to a friend?" When he did not get a very clear answer he reduced the number of Apple products from 350 to just 10!

Think about your menu. What items are your "hits"? Those dishes that your team just knocks out of the ball every time? That is what your menu should consist of! Too many items leads to what psychologists call "the paradox of choice" is when too many choices leads to anxiety about our choices. So when your menu has too many items, guests get frustrated and tend to go for the "safe" choice. The bad news is that your safe choice might not be a big profit maker.

Sometimes what you do NOT put on your menu is more important then what you do.

Here are some key questions to ask about your menu:

  • Why do I drive to your restaurant?
  • What do we do better than anyone?
  • Is my menu in alignment with my brand?
  • Are my menu items designed for my demographic or my ego?

You need to be brutally honest on that last one. Too many restaurant owners, operators and chefs design menus purely for their egos. I know. I've done it. When I was in my early 20's I had that "chip-on-the-shoulder" mindset that many chefs have. I would not allow customers to alter anything on "my" menu. Then the owner had a heart-to-heart talk with me.

He said, "I really need you to be more flexible when it comes to the items on the menu. Here's why. If the customers are not happy, they won't come back and if they stop coming back...I won't be able to pay you."

Needless to say, I changed my tune rather quickly. I look back at that experience as an eye opener that dining out was more that about my ego. I started to look at the real reason people go out to a restaurant in the first place. To share food and create memories. When I looked at it like that it changed how I looked at my identity.

Identity is very powerful. We do almost anything to be in congruency with the identity we hold for ourselves. I always say be very careful of what follows the statement...I am. It comes looking for you and your behavior matches that identity.

When I stepped back and looked at what I was doing in the kitchen, I became more than a chef. I looked at what I did was "enhance the human experience through a culinary medium."

Creating menus is an art and a science. Knowing what to put on your menu, where to place it and how to price it are common issues many restaurants deal with. I know. I look at 30-40 menus a week! Very few have the trifecta of menu design down.

Look at your menu and understand that too many items is causing anxiety is your guests. Too many similar items are cannibalizing your sales. The common mistake most make it that they think since they have the ingredients they should put it on the menu!

Think of putting items on your menu items like wearing a bikini or speedo at the beach....just because you can, does not mean you should.

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