Conversation and insight was flowing from the floor in Atlanta.

Do you have any idea what a hyper-focused menu is? If so, do you know why you should develop a hyper-focused menu? When FSR and QSR editorial director Danny Klein asked me to sit on a panel at FSR’s NextGen Restaurant Summit, I was super excited. “What’s the topic?” I asked him. He replied, “Hyper-Focused Menus.” There was a long pause because I thought to myself, “Is he joking?.” I had no idea why he asked me to speak on this. I’m the “hospitality guy,” the “culture guy,” the “restaurateur guy.” But hey, it was a chance to share my thoughts at a great event and I wanted to support FSR. And I’m so glad I did.

The other panelists at the table with me were rock stars in the industry. Cai Palmiter, VP of marketing for JINYA Holdings Inc, Ryan Zink, CEO of Good Times Restaurants, and Megan Lynberg, VP of Sales at Datassential. I learned a lot from them that day about hyper-focused menus and in the process realized I knew quite a bit as well. Several people came up to me after and asked me questions and the rest of the conference my time filled up with impromptu meetings with so many great people.

So, what is a hyper-focused menu? Or better yet, let’s start with what it isn’t. A hyper-focused menu is the opposite of The Cheesecake Factory menu that was 10 pages long. It was cool to have so many choices. The problem was, I showed up to eat and relax. I didn’t show up to work. Reading that menu and then deciding what I wanted to eat was exhaustive. Choice was big back then but eventually this idea gave way to simplicity. The other issue with a large menu was that it was unlikely that every item was going to be phenomenal. If the guest came in and ordered one of the “not phenomenal” dishes it may be the only experience they have. What if it wasn’t good? They wouldn’t come back.

So, what is a hyper-focused menu? The definition I gave on the panel last week was simple: “A smaller menu that focuses on brand and execution.” The other panelists all said something similar with some focused more on brand while I focused more on execution and guest experiences. Here are some of the great takeaways I got from my colleagues on stage.

Palmiter, when asked about why JINYA chose a super hyper-focused menu on ramen, said, “JINYA Ramen Bar created a need and want in the restaurant industry. The crave-ability for ramen has tremendously increased over the years. JINYA Ramen Bar offers a wide variety of options, including vegan, to cater to a diverse customer base and accommodate various dietary preferences and restrictions. This approach allows us to attract a broader range of customers while still maintaining our core values and focus on our ramen roots. It’s a strategic move to create a more inclusive and appealing dining experience. Guests are now able to choose from a few of our classic ramen dishes or can opt to create a combination of their own. JINYA Ramen Bar offers a great balance between focus and freedom for our guests.” 

So, even though they were hyper-focused on a particular niche market of Ramen, JINYA still offered a variety of choices within the niche. She also talked about how centralizing product made supply chain logistics and honing in on mastering the craft much more successful. Cai graciously hosted a group of us for dinner that night at JINYA in Buckhead and it was fantastic. I also met some really great people. After all, dining out is only as good as the company you keep at the table.

Zink from Good Times Restaurants Inc. focused a lot of attention speaking about the guest experience and branding. While the company overall focused on burgers, their two brands, Good Times Burger and Frozen Custard and Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar offered a different guest experience that was brand specific. Even though Good Times Burger and Frozen Custard is a fast-casual restaurant chain, it still serves a high quality fresh, unique, proprietary selection of hamburgers made with Meyer all natural, all Angus beef and Springer mountain Farms all natural, hand-breaded chicken. 

Ryan also mentioned that they recently took a very popular nacho off the menu at Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar because it didn’t fit the brand. I heard a groan from the audience and knew that those nachos must have been awesome. But they weren’t brand specific. Both brands sold burgers but kept brand distinction resulting in a very loyal following at each concept.

Megan came with the data. As an operator, I think I know the trends, the direction the consumer is headed, however, it’s really nice when you see empirical data that supports that hunch. The data Megan shared was based on which hyper-focused menus did well in restaurants. Some of the data was obvious like more people will make coffee at home but will buy espressos, lattes, macchiatos at a cafe like Starbucks. And certain foods were more likely to be made at home like a cheeseburger but Asian food like pad thai and sushi were more likely to be ordered out because of the labor intensive and expertise needed in making those dishes. 

Megan also shared data regarding what strategies restaurants used to battle inflation. The results were as follows; between May, June, and July about 62 percent of restaurants used the strategy of raising prices, about 40 percent reduced their menu size (hyper-focused), launched new items, and focused on value.

I came to the conversation from an operator and coach perspective. And, here is what I shared. 

Primary benefits of a hyper-focused menu

Efficiency and Consistency. Do less items really well and streamline the execution with a smaller mise en place.

Loyalty. While you may limit the wide variety of your customer base, you will drive a more loyal and frequent following by staying true to your brand and delivering on your brand’s promise. You can’t be all things to all people.

Profitability. Smaller menus mean better cross-utilization of product, less waste, and more profit.

Lower labor costs due to prepping less items in bigger bulk and more efficient line stations requiring less bodies on the line.

Consistency. More likely that every menu item is spectacular

So, if you are deciding on whether or not you should create a hyper-focused menu remember to keep these things in mind, brand identity, the guest experience, quality of product, and reduced costs. That sounds like a recipe for success as we face huge inflation and post-COVID supply chain issues and labor force shortages.

Editor’s note: This is the 14th article in a new column from restaurant expert Monte Silva. More on the series can be found here. The first story, on Why Underpaying Restaurant Employees is a Recipe for Disaster, is here. The second, on Why Marketing is Not Expensive, is here. The third, on people-centric leadership, is here. The fourth, on Why Working 70-Hour Weeks in Your Restaurant is Not the Answer, is here. The fifth, on How to Provide Hospitality in a High-Tech, Low-Touch World, is here. The sixth, on ‘The Convertible Culture’ in Restaurants, is here. The seventh, on Why the Old P&L Model Has Set Restaurants Up for Failure,’ is here. The eighth, on How to Scale Your Restaurant Business When There is Only One of You, is here. The ninth article, The Secret to Finding and Keeping Great Employees is Not Difficult, is here. The 10th, What Culture Do You Really Want at Your Restaurant?, is here. The 11th, on Your Restaurant Should Serve People, Not Product, is here. The 12th, on Don’t Let Shiny New Toys Distract Your Restaurant from What’s Most Important, is here. And the 13th, on Why Restaurant Value Shouldn’t Be Based on Price, is here.

Expert Takes, Feature, Menu Innovations, NextGen Casual