Written By: Zack Duvall, Founder of Millennial Consulting LLC

Whenever someone in the restaurant business asks me “what’s wrong with my overhead figures?” or “why is my plated food quality so low despite top-notch kitchen staff and protocol?” I immediately pick up the location’s menu and begin to outline how 4 (or more, and yes, I’ve seen this) pages of chaotic and unrelated food items are the direct cause of the problems that are driving them crazy.

In terms of trying to improve the efficiency and overall quality of product being put out by a restaurant’s kitchen, the hands down best approach to the concept is to have a streamlined and focused menu selection. Not only because it allows for you to focus on acquiring fresh, local and high quality ingredients that fit into a well presented theme, but it allows for you to cut down on ordering inventory for menu items that may be high dollar, but come with low sales.

I mean really, what is the point of being able to brag about having one of the biggest menus in town, if all that does for your business is add to your operating costs while taking up room in your coolers and BOH storage areas that could be used to develop new ways of effectively putting out food or to expand your food prep area allowing for a more dynamic kitchen that is conducive to staff working at an optimal pace, free of space constraints or having to do special moves around each other to fire an order during rush.

Another way that cutting the number of items on your menu contributes dramatically to increased quality of food is that it allows for your kitchen staff to have what I call ‘expert’ level understanding of the menu, ingredients and methods of food preparation. The staff can hone their skills on a certain discipline of the culinary art whether it be seafood, fried food, grilled items, baked goods or whatever you’ve decided to make the theme or specialty of your restaurant. Instead of having to retain recipes and preparation methods for dozens of items, some of which they may not make on even a bi-daily basis, you allow them to really feel as though the kitchen has a set and dedicated identity that promotes pride and confidence within the team.

Let me be clear, as a consumer and professional, it is more reassuring to know that I’m eating at a location that knows what its good at and looks like it has a plan of action that includes a focused and clear cut agenda, than a location whose menu is a book of “we’re trying to find ourselves”.

I’m not trying to be funny in a hurtful way, but really, if a business hasn’t found a way to develop and commit to an identity, how do I know they’ve found a way to develop and commit to cleaning procedures or FIFO rules?

A menu that is scrambled and all over the place, to me and many others, is a sign of disorganization that can turnoff dining savvy consumers who value a streamlined and almost tailored dining experience. It shows a lack of focus that, and again I’m trying to be honest not harsh, is telling of the decision making behind the scenes in a very unfavorable way.

So, in order to keep this from becoming a book of its own, I hope that I can leave you with this overall outline or summary of my points I hope you take away from this little piece I’ve penned for you:

  1. A streamlined and condensed menu allows for higher food quality because of the freedom of spending from the savings in order overhead it provides. Instead of spreading your capital for industry standard ingredients to sustain a menu of 100 items, you should focus your buying power on fresh, local ingredients that not only dynamically improve quality, but also provide an almost invaluable marketing talking point that could do well for you in a very picky consumer base.
  2. Less items on the menu allow for you to make a specialty team out of your BOH staff by giving them a sense of identity and pushing them to master one theme of cooking.
  3. It allows you to free up potentially vital space in your location to develop more ways to make a profit. Every square foot of your business should be making you money, or making it easier for your employees to do their jobs. Additionally, to touch back and tie this point to the savings on overhead I mentioned earlier, the freed up space could be used to invest in new equipment or a redesigned BOH that improves on any existing space constraints.
  4. A disorganized and excessive menu can often times be very indicative of owners who haven’t yet established a true identity for their business. I want to be clear, this is completely separate than having a set name and reputation. A restaurant’s identity comes from its menu and the quality of the food it serves its customers, not its name.

So that’s it. I hope I’ve given you something to think about and hopefully this article is information that you already knew, or are learning as a result of research you’re doing BEFORE launch. If not, it’s okay, but take the points I’ve outlined to heart and make that change for the success of your business!

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