Using seasonal ingredients in recipes is one of the most common tips for home cooks to cut costs.

Operating a restaurant is challenging, especially in the last couple of years. Between supply chain issues, labor shortages and the threat of a global pandemic, those that have managed to keep the doors open and the lights on in the foodservice industry should be commended.

Now that things are starting to go back to normal, it might be time to change. Business owners should think about the last time they changed their menu. Is it time for an upgrade, or are the old favorites still selling well? What are the biggest benefits of choosing a new restaurant menu regularly?

Here are some things restaurant owners should consider when updating their menus and keeping customers coming through their doors.

Staying Flexible During Hard Times

While no industry escaped the COVID-19 pandemic unscathed, some were harder hit than others. Restaurants spent a lot of time with their doors closed because they couldn’t offer the social distancing requirements that would allow them to operate safely. Many didn’t open their dining rooms for months on end, meaning things needed to shift to a takeout-friendly plan. This became a difficult challenge for establishments that relied on in-person dining.

Taking the time to update menus regularly can give business owners all the tools they need to stay flexible if something goes wrong again. This is also a valuable tool to help restaurants secure repeat business from customers who may have changed their habits — such as eating out less and preferring takeout over in-person dining — throughout the pandemic.

Following the Trends

Diners can be fickle, and food trends can change more often than some people change their socks. Having the flexibility to update a menu makes adding new meals or removing ingredients much easier.

In 2017, the top trends in the food industry were locally sourced ingredients, minimally processed foods and chef-driven fast-casual restaurants. These are still important, but things have shifted dramatically over the past five years. In 2022, ghost kitchens—pop-ups that only offer takeout options—limited menus, fusion foods and the adoption of plant-based proteins are all shaping the food industry.

In general, restaurants should change and update their menus once a year, or once every two years at the most. The only exception to this is if the menu uses many seasonal ingredients. In that case, it can change quarterly, shifting with the seasons and the availability of ingredients.

Catering to Diner Demographics

The type of dining experience that someone looks for depends on many different factors, from their income levels to their preferences. Even the generation they were born into can impact what diners expect to get out of a trip to their favorite restaurant.

Gen Xers, who were born between 1965 and 1980, tend to prefer traditional dining experiences with homemade foods. On the other hand, millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, prefer smaller portions from more tech-savvy restaurants. They’re more likely to try something new than just stick to their old favorites. One survey found that 64 percent of millennials were open to trying new dishes from a wide range of cuisines.

Gen Z, born after 1997, tends to prefer convenience above all. They’re fans of internationally inspired dishes and are almost always on top of the latest trends. This is the generation that will jump on a new restaurant menu, just for the chance to try something new and exciting. Updating a menu can make it easier to cater to one specific demographic or invite another one in to try something new.

Letting the Chef Shine

Having a set menu is a great way to cater to an existing customer base, but it often doesn’t put the chef’s skills to the best use. Maybe the head chef is cooking Asian fusion dishes but was trained as a French patisserie. They are skilled and can tackle any recipe thrown at them, but they aren’t using all their skills in the best way possible.

Choosing a new restaurant menu, especially with the input of the head chef and kitchen crew, can help create something truly unique that diners of all ages could enjoy. Giving the head chef creative license is an excellent way to discover new dishes that could become a big draw for customers, especially if it’s a unique item.

Cutting Costs With Seasonal Ingredients

Using seasonal ingredients in recipes is one of the most common tips for home cooks to cut costs. Restaurants can also cash in on this money-saving option if they’re willing to change their menus frequently. The biggest challenge with seasonal menus is changing and updating the menu every few months.

In addition to cutting costs, adding seasonal recipes to the menu can help attract new guests to the restaurant, especially those concerned with chasing trends or supporting establishments making sustainable choices.

Reducing Food Waste

Food waste is an enormous problem. About 30–40 percent of the U.S.’s entire food supply is thrown away each year. Restaurants can do their part to combat that waste with something as simple as a menu change.

Take a close look at the current menu and compare it to what’s been ordered over the last couple of years. Compare that to the supplies needed for each dish. How much food is being discarded because the item  it’s used in doesn’t get ordered enough? It’s a simple thing to change, but it could have dramatic and far-reaching effects if it becomes a widespread practice throughout the restaurant industry.

Updating Menus Is Essential

It’s tempting to stick to old favorites on the menu, especially when customers keep coming back for the same thing every time they visit the restaurant, but it isn’t the best way to keep things moving forward. The industry as a whole is busy bouncing back from two years of takeout orders and pandemic sanitation measures. Now is the perfect time to go over that old menu and figure out what changes could help business thrive in the coming years.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over five years experience writing for the food and beverage industry.

Expert Takes, Feature, Menu Innovations