Creating and optimizing your menu strategy

This is not just about creating a design for your hand-held menus. Back up a step. Before you decide what goes on your printed menu, and long before you decide what it will look like, you need to create a menu strategy. “Menu Strategy Optimization” is all about taking a fresh look at your menu strategy and identifying and prioritizing your brand’s desired business objectives as related to the food and beverage products offered. You need to ask yourself, “Do we have the right things on the menu?” “What do we need to drop?” “Which items should be prioritized, and why?” “Which menu items define our brand?”

Many FSRs Don’t Have a Documented Menu Strategy

Surprisingly, many restaurants do not have a cohesive and well-documented menu strategy linked to high-level business objectives. It’s the missing link to realizing optimum business performance. For these restaurants, strategy is not guiding what products are offered, their priority placement, and how the menu design can affect your business results. Creating and agreeing on a menu strategy is a critical step in the development of effective hand-held menus. Having a documented menu strategy helps you navigate the way to desired business results.

Eight Steps to Take Before You Build a Menu Strategy

There’s some homework to do before you begin to work out the details of any menu strategy. The inputs are varied, and they are all business-centric. The following eight-step process should be in place before you sit down to create your new or enhanced menu strategy:

1. Review Your Current Menu Strategy. Identify the objectives and strategies you have now relative to your current food and beverage offerings. These may be documented already, or you may need to document them. What you have now is your starting point—if you don't have anything documented, you can begin by reverse-engineering the current strategy based on your current hand-held menu. What must have been the strategy that resulted in this menu?

2. Determine Market Needs. What is trending within the general full-service restaurant industry? What are the drivers within your segment specifically?

3. Understand the Competition. Develop an understanding of the food/beverage landscape and the offerings of your key competitors. See where your brand stands relative to the competition from a menu offering standpoint. It will help determine if your brand has distinct advantages upon which you can capitalize. Or, if you find any disadvantages to your brand, this evaluation will also help you distinguish which ones represent genuine threats. Competitors may include non-restaurant segments such as supermarkets, C-stores, and so on.

4. Identify Economic Factors. What is the current economic climate? What is the outlook for the next two to three years? Look at broad economic indicators and consumer trends along with those of the restaurant industry, your segment, and your target audience.

5. Watch the News: Understand Regulations. What legislation—both pending and potential—could possibly impact the restaurant industry and your brand?

6. Review Technology. What is the latest equipment and technology? What is required to positively impact your menu strategy from the standpoint of quality, cost, and speed?

7. Consider Operations. Operations are a critical factor in determining your brand’s menu strategy. Staffing levels, knowledge of production line set-up, and other key operational factors must be considered prior to developing an optimized menu strategy.

8. Conduct Consumer Research. Consumer research is critical in the development of your menu strategy. It should be used to help determine your brand’s “elasticity” with respect to its menu. One such approach is a TURF study (also known as a Total Unduplicated Reach and Frequency analysis), which is designed to identify the relative interest and the purchase intent that consumers would place on various menu concepts and/or specific menu items.

The Menu Strategy Process

With these inputs in place, it’s time to develop your new (or optimized) menu strategy. Creating a menu strategy typically involves a day-long, interactive workshop with key stakeholders, such as the marketing team, finance department, operations, research, key franchisees, and so on. It’s a good idea to have a trained facilitator lead this session. A facilitator will ensure that discussions stay on point, and that no single participant dominates the workshop or biases decision-making. Here are the typical steps and objectives of the workshop session:

1. Establish Business Objectives. What are the business objectives you ultimately want to accomplish from your menu? For instance, your objectives might include: to increase beverage incidence and thus grow profitability, to increase sales between the lunch and dinner day part, or to grow the average check. There might be a dozen or more items on your wish list. These business objectives should be prioritized in order of importance. Which ones will have the greatest positive impact on your business? You should establish specific targets and metrics for each objective.

2. Identify and Prioritize Your Food Platforms. List your food platforms and/or categories and put them in the order of strategic importance. Are beverage sales more important to your business than food? Are sides more important than desserts? This step will require a good understanding of where your sales and profits are coming from now, and where your key opportunities lie.

3. Identify and Prioritize “Key Opportunities.” These are those tactical points you can work on to reach your menu’s business objectives. For each of these “opportunities,” provide a specific, tactical example of how you will accomplish a stated business objective. For example, you might decide to develop menu offerings that travel well in order to increase take-out and curbside sales, or you might develop new snack items to increase ticket at the bar. The resulting list of opportunities should be prioritized in their order of importance to your business.

4. Understand Your Critical Success Factors. These are the menu strengths, characteristics, and signature products that your brand is synonymous with and that your team can execute well. This is what differentiates your brand from the competition. These should be leveraged to your advantage as you develop an enhanced menu strategy.

5. Understand Your Critical Weaknesses. These are those things that you do not do well from a menu offering standpoint. Identifying these in your menu strategy helps you circumvent or correct these weaknesses.

6. Identify Threats and Risks. These are typically outside forces that could prevent you from reaching your business objectives. An example might be a competitor with similar (or perhaps even better) menu offerings. You need to get these potential threats on the table now, as they may ultimately impact your menu strategy.

Validating Your Efforts

Make sure the menu strategy you come up with will resonate with customers. Consider quantitative and/or qualitative research to evaluate and validate your new menu strategy. See what works well, and what needs tweaking. Well-constructed research will help determine if the new strategy will achieve your business objectives.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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