Does a Smaller Menu Mean a Bigger Bottom Line?

When it comes to menus, shorter is the new black.

For years, the size of restaurant menus has grown. Diners demanded a plethora of choices, and menus were forced to span a variety of continents and cuisines. Restaurant-goers were often met with bulky, confusing lists of choices.

So why did menus get longer than an Ottolenghi cookbook? Those broadsheet menus were trendy while many eateries responded to intense competition and consumer demand for more choices.  Restaurant’s thought by offering more options, diners would stay loyal. The idea was this: Guests will come here all the time if they can eat something different every night.

But that has seen a major reversal over the last few years.  The 500 largest restaurant chains have cut their menu sizes by over 7% in the last couple of years. Larger chains like IHOP and Tony Roma’s are both down over 30 items, while newer, smaller restaurants are following suit even more dramatically and are down an average of 40 menu items compared to that of existing establishments. 40 fewer items!

There are a lot of reasons for this shift. First, the demand for quality over quantity is now nearly universal. Customers tend to think that with so many items, you can’t possibly prepare all of them well. (And, as those of us who’ve worked in kitchens know… they’re right.)

Second, the rise of food culture means consumers are both interested in and willing to seek out restaurants that have the best dumplings, best burger, or any other trendy item of the moment, meaning that operators benefit from creating much more focused menus.

Third, millennials. They get their information 140 characters at a time. Give them a menu with 140 items, and you may as well be asking them to read Dostoyevsky.

Why fewer choices is often better for business

Streamlining a menu makes obvious sense once you remove the demand-side pressure from customers. Kitchens with smaller menus can focus more energy on perfecting their best dishes, spend less time getting staff up to speed on a thousand new items, and waste less food because there are less ingredients to go bad. Plus, you can order your key ingredients in higher volumes, which means discounts from suppliers and lower food costs overall.

So, next time you take a long hard look at your menu, ask yourself if you’ve stretched it too thin trying to please customers that might not even exist anymore? Could you do more with less? Could you make more money with less?

BlueCart is all about saving time and money by worrying less about things that don’t matter, and focusing on things that do. It’s the entire rationale behind the ordering platform we built for restaurants and their suppliers. What’s the rationale behind your long menu?

Want some outside sources? Here you go: