Why Smaller Menus Are the Best Thing for Restaurants Right Now

Why Smaller Menus Are the Best Thing for Restaurants Right Now

When the Covid-19 delivery boom took off, many restaurants shortened their menu in order to focus on their best, and most delivery-friendly, items. But as supply chain issues, labor shortages and health concerns persist, the small menu trend is making increasingly more economic and operational sense as a long term strategy.

Smaller menus are an opportunity for operators to reinvent their restaurant’s concept, improve forecasting and boost profit margins. For diners, smaller menus can mean reduced anxiety by contrasting the choice overload effect. In short, a smaller menu increases the perceived value of a restaurant because it makes every dish seem like it’s been designed with the greatest care.

Smaller Menus Relieve Labor Shortage Stressors

One of the most pressing issues currently influencing all aspects of food-service is the labor shortage

A simpler menu means chefs can master a few key dishes and prepare them more efficiently. Restaurants struggling to hire quality back-of-house staff require a lower range of products to prep if they have smaller menus.

Whatever washing, peeling and chopping is needed can be done efficiently en-masse, saving valuable billable hours. 

Efficient Inventory Management with Bite Size Menus

The Omicron variant’s high infection rates continue to disrupt supply chains, causing shortages and higher food costs. Protein, for example, has seen a 30% price increase. With fewer ingredients on the menu, less supplies need to be ordered and stored.

The WSJ reported that at least 60% of chefs have simmered down their menus lately. In part because it’s easier to substitute 1 ingredient than 10 when there’s a sudden shortage.

Restaurants are also choosing ingredients with longer, more stable shelf lives that can be used across multiple dishes. Switching to a more resistant tomato, for example, will mean fewer produce deliveries. 

When the same ingredients can be utilized in multiple ways, operators can focus on predicting total meal orders. This allows them to rely less on precise forecasting for each specific dish and more on average order count.

Less Choice Leads to Happier Clients

Studies show that more options, even when it comes to food, makes customers less confident in their menu choices and reduces overall satisfaction. It requires more mental effort to choose a meal when the menu is endless. A complex choice involves added stress and the subconscious inflation of unreasonable expectations.

This ‘paradox of choice’ can leave patrons second guessing their order. Eat-at-home diners have lost hours scrolling through options on 3rd party delivery apps, unable to choose, and in many cases just giving up. 

Facebook’s CEO (now Meta), Mark Zuckerberg, and Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, were known to have a wardrobe with a single color or style of shirt.

They realized that there is a finite amount of mental energy one has every day for making choices, and having a consistent no-choice wardrobe allowed them to focus on more important challenges during their day.

Of course, a menu should cater to various tastes with a diversity of flavors, textures, allergens, and even calorie count. Featuring only 2-3 options for each clientele segment is enough to make everyone happy.

Ultimately there is a sweet spot, above which more choice reduces customer satisfaction. The challenge for restaurant owners is to find this sweet spot and balance it with operational constraints. 

Take It from Michelin Star Restaurants - Less Is More

Focusing on quality, not quantity, heightens the way a restaurant is viewed in the public’s eye, because a shorter menu is perceived as a more curated menu.

Michelin Star restaurants, for example, typically have a fixed tasting menu with 5-12 dishes only. According to DataEssential, fine-dining restaurants, which already had focused menus, reduced their menu items by 23% in 2021. 

By focusing on creating a few great dishes, one or two can become signature dishes, drawing publicity, hashtags, reviews and buzz. 

Health and Climate Forward Menus for Increased Profits

The final important benefit of a smaller restaurant menu is that it aligns with the general trend towards healthier eating with less impact on the environment.

Fewer ingredients bought and prepped means less food waste, lower transport costs, and less single use plastic packaging etc. 

Shorter menus resonate perfectly with the clean label trend that advocates for using less processed ingredients. (and seasonality of fruits and veg to be more sustainsable) Communicating this to the conscious client base will drive more sales.

Smaller menus also give chefs more freedom to experiment with simpler, healthier, local ingredients. Somewhat of a guru on this topic is Alice Waters, a great chef, restaurateur, and author of The Art of Simple Food

Alice’s simple but inventive dishes focus on a passion for flavor and a reverence for locally produced, seasonal foods, showing that when you have high quality ingredients you don’t need a whole lot of culinary manipulation.

Seasonal specials or themed menus, when marketed correctly, can drive return business and public interest. And because customers will be limited to choosing from a select bunch of rotating dishes, chefs will get more feedback to hone dishes to greatness.

To get started with a smaller menu restaurant operators should consult with their supplier regarding future supply forecasts, costs, shelf life variations between alternatives and more.

If they are an honest and transparent supplier, with great customer service like Cheetah, the process of creating a finessed menu will be a delight.

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