The all-too-familiar “business as usual” refrain isn’t sufficient (or realistic) for operators in the current business environment. Menus must constantly evolve to keep pace with the changing times and emerging consumer preferences and flavor trends.
To maximize profitability in a fluctuating marketplace patronized by highly diverse customers, operators should regularly evaluate their menus, item by item, to ensure every offering is still worthy of its place on the menu.
Many are streamlining for efficiency—a wise move given consumers’ increased reliance on carryout and delivery.1 Family meals, kits and bundles, and specials should be broadly appealing without being boring.
Consider these strategies when walking that menu tightrope.
Gone are the days of offering countless menu options to prevent consumers from vetoing an establishment because certain individuals in their group insist there’s nothing on the menu for them. A bloated menu hampers service time, as McDonald’s realized after reducing its late-night menu and removing all-day breakfast in spring 2020. The moves resulted in the chain reducing drive-thru wait times by nearly 29 seconds.2
Of course, McDonald’s wasn’t the only operation to scale back. In a survey from early July, 58 percent of operators said they had narrowed the menu in response to reduced traffic and sales.1
If your menu has become bloated, start by chopping less-profitable, less-popular items. Ease customers into the loss of their potentially favorite item by making it available off-menu for a few months so they can gradually adjust to the change while simultaneously finding other menu options to favor.3
Build and Promote Based on Needs
If you cut menu choices for operational efficiencies, you can recapture veto-inclined guests by making allowances for their personal preferences. That may mean including dishes that aren’t simply shareable but meant for multiple people.
According to Datassential, 29 percent of consumers say multi-serving or family-size items would motivate them to get food from a restaurant right now.4 Earlier this year, Zaxby’s launched Zax Family Packs: 20 chicken fingers or 30 boneless wings with enough shareable sides for four people.5 Months later, Zax Family Packs are still on the menu.
As restaurants slowly open to indoor dining, consumers still have a need for shareable meals. In October, Hard Rock Café promoted several new family meal LTOs, including a Parmigiana-Style Chicken & Pasta bundle featuring its Tupelo Chicken tenders topped with mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce, plus a bowl of cavatappi pasta, family-size Caesar salad, and garlic toast. For Mexican food lovers, Hard Rock offered a Famous Chicken Fajita bundle with grilled chicken and all the fixings, along with black beans and cilantro lime rice.6
Consumers will always require variety, which can be achieved by offering flavorful dipping sauces that deliver on several fronts. Think craveable spice and global flavors achieved with the likes of currently popular Sriracha, harissa, and gochujang, for example.7
Innovate on Flavor and Novelty
Common wisdom asserts that consumers seek comfort food during uncertain times. But not so this year. Boredom quickly set in, and according to Datassential, nearly 4 in 5 consumers were craving something new by August, and 58 percent said they were bored with comfort foods.1
It’s time to serve the flavors consumers are craving. Datassential research shows that global flavors are what consumers most want from restaurants. Asian cuisine—for example, Japanese food, wonton soup, and Kung Pao chicken—top the list of dishes consumers prefer to enjoy outside the home. They also seek Cuban sandwiches, calzones, and chalupas from foodservice establishments.1
To satisfy these cravings without overwhelming your menu, consider offering a wide range of dipping sauces for chicken tenders, fries, and even pizza.7
Ultimately, the best way to keep guests coming back for more in these unpredictable times is to give them the flavors and flexibility they most desire. The pursuit of profitability even now shouldn’t trump innovation.
Content courtesy of Perdue Foodservice
1Why Investing in Innovation Is More Important Than Ever Post-Quarantine, Datassential, September 2020, https://offers.datassential.com/hubfs/Offers/Investing%20in%20Innovation%20Post-Quarantine.pdf
2Luna, Nancy, “McDonald’s drive-thru lanes are nearly 30 seconds faster thanks to limited menu, 11,000 Dynamic Yield menu boards,” Nation’s Restaurant News, Oct. 2, 2020
3Lucas, Amelia, “These Fast-food Chains Have Dropped Menu Items This Year—Here’s Why,” CNBC, Sept. 14, 2019
4FoodBytes, Datassential, March 2020
5Thorn, Bret, Menu Tracker: New offerings from Panera Bread, Jack in the Box and Denny’s, Nation’s Restaurant News, April 9, 2020
6Thorn, Bret, Menu Tracker: New items from McDonald’s, KFC and Subway, Nation’s Restaurant News, Oct. 8, 2020
7“The rise of the dip: Sauces offer convenient meal customization,” Restaurant Hospitality, May 4, 2018, https://www.restaurant-hospitality.com/breakout-flavors/rise-dip-sauces-offer-convenient-meal-customization