Just a few years back, it was unthinkable to minimize your menu for the purpose of increasing sales. But a look into American restaurants show that a short menu is surprisingly popular among customers. 

Focus on quality is back

The International House of Pancakes, also known as IHOP, has reduced its menu from 200 items to 170. BJ’s Restaurant has cut entrées from 181 to 150 and Tony Roma’s has gone from 92 items to about 60 in only three years, as they realized something essential for their business.

“We can no longer be everything to everybody all the time. I don’t think customers are out there counting the number of items. It’s about producing better quality products,” says Smith of Tony Roma’s.

The focus on quality instead of quantity has reduced the numbers of menu items offered at the 500 top restaurant in the US in 2014 with 7.1%. This is after several years of restaurants increasing menus. Source: Technomic MenuMonitor in USA Today

Why you should do as Chipotle

Burritos, tacos, burrito bowls and salads. Four items. One menu. That is all you can choose from at the American Mexican grill, Chipotle, as they found out what their customers really want.

“It’s just never been important to us to constantly package our ingredients in different ways, call it a new menu item and promote it with heavy advertising. Customers come to our restaurants primarily because they love our food, not because of new menu items or other gimmicks,” says Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold.

Burger King and McDonald’s follow suit

Many other restaurants have followed their principle of less is more – and become very popular in just a short time.

Five Guys only has five items: burgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese, a veggie sandwich and a BLT. However, with fifteen free toppings, those items can be combined in more than 250,000 different ways. Making a simple menu very customizable.

Also, Burger King is re-organizing their menu by focusing on fewer but better choices. “You can launch less and deploy better marketing support behind fewer products, to make sure people are paying attention,” says Alex Macedo, president of Burger King North America. At the same time, McDonald’s follows suit as they want to make their menu less confusing and their core product – the burger – better.

What should you cut?

It’s easy to say that you should reduce your items on the menu – but which items should you take away? And which should stay?

IHOP eliminated most of their main courses, including Biscuits & Gravy, Pot Roast and three different Talapia dishes. The reason for this was that taking away slow-sellers will give the chef more time to focus on the fast-sellers which is the same reason why Tony Roma’s took away several steak options, reduced the number of burger options and eliminated all pasta options. “When we focus on fewer things, we can produce a more constant, quality product,” Smith says.

Not always so simple

However, you should be careful which items you choose to remove from your menu. The choice is not always as easy as it may sound.

Shortly after BJ’s Restaurant removed the Crisp Potato Skins platter, riots almost broke out in the streets and customers showed up wearing “Bring Back Potato Skins” T-shirts, CEO Greg Trojan says. And then there was only one thing to do. The platter is back on the menu.

So, with BJ’s Restaurant in mind, even though fewer options will save you money and make it easier to choose, it is important to listen to the customers. If you do have a star item that every customer order, perhaps that’s not the one to remove. Otherwise, you will end up with a lot of angry t-shirts.

Original source: Restaurants shrink menus, focus efforts, USA Today, August 24, 2014

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