Restaurants are gifted with the inherent opportunity to keep customers enticed in various ways, not least of which being the chance to update or change up their menus from time to time. Menu rotation keeps things fresh and innovative for both customers and restaurant staff.
There are a variety of different factors to consider when devising menu updates, seasonal items or limited time offers (LTOs). It is important to find balance between sharing new items and keeping customer favorites on the menu. Some signature dishes are what keep many customers coming back, so you need to be careful not to get too far away from your specialties.
When considering new ideas, the key is to maintain a disciplined process of how to vet out and implement new menu items. It’s crucial to keep your menu at a reasonable size so that it’s both appealing to the customer and easy for your staff to execute properly.
When optimizing your menu, be sure to make an assessment of what’s really selling. You will likely recognize your most popular items straight away. You should also be able to see which items or dishes are selling less frequently and removing some of those from rotation can free up space to accommodate new or seasonal options.
Rely on your store operators to share feedback—both their own and that of the customers—on what positive adjustments can be made. In addition to feedback, pay attention to sales data. Some menu items that may be perceived as most popular might not be reflected as such in the numbers.
Regular meetings between franchise owners and store operators can provide a mountain of ideas and insights into what is happening on a local level. Store operators can sometimes pick up on emerging trends that even the franchise R&D department may have overlooked. It is important to tap into the knowledge and experience of your whole team, because they are the ones interacting with customers on a daily basis and know what folks want.
Any menu changes should be strategic, rather than just on a whim. Be thoughtful about those decisions because a wrong choice can come back to haunt you in the form of disappointed customers and frustrated staff. Remember that even the best idea isn’t necessarily the right decision. Always bear in mind how a shift or change fits in with the brand and what you stand for. Through menu optimization, focus on the process and devote your time and resources to creating the most outstanding products and experience for your customers.
LTO’s are a great way to give customers another choice, particularly if an item is being offered for the first time. For the staff, it is something new and exciting to get behind. Marketing, PR, and other social engagement around the offer promotes not only a menu item, but the brand as a whole. The right menu upgrade will have everyone talking, especially if it includes a specific flavor trend or seasonal ingredient.
For instance, at Your Pie, our Peach Prosciutto Pie has become a real fan favorite of our loyal customers. However, fresh peaches are only available through a short period of time each year. But since the dish has become such a signature product for Your Pie, it is now part of our craft series each summer. Its limited availability adds to its appeal.
At the same time, we have had other specials, such as the Hot Honey Pepperoni Pizza that has done so well that we have considered putting in our lineup of favorites because of how much people enjoy it and want to have it again.
In terms of promotional items like these, if the sales mix is more than 3 percent, that’s a good sign. If it’s more than 5 percent, that item might be considered something to either add to the permanent menu or bring back again at a later time.
As we witnessed during Covid, many restaurants scaled way back on their menus and focused on only offering signature items, or items that made the most sense to produce within the limitations of a pandemic. Many of the lessons learned during this period will carry over, particularly in how operators will continue to execute and manage expenses while still offering a delicious, enjoyable experience to the customer.
Moving forward, restaurateurs are gradually adding items back to their offerings, but over-crowded menus are a thing of the past. An updated menu that acknowledges and holds onto the favorites while providing exciting, special products helps restauranteurs stay engaged with customers and increase profits.
Dave McDougall is the CEO of Your Pie.