The menu is the most important tool for a caterer or restaurant owner. Just think about how a retail store has to keep their stock current and fresh so customers will keep coming back. The same goes for food service. So how often should you update and build a menu and what’s the best way to roll out the changes?
Ever try to explain to someone how long they need to cook something? It’s nearly impossible because there are too many factors. The correct response is, cook it till its done. But they need more, they need to know how it looks or feels. So we add in directions like, “take it out when it’s golden brown”, or “should take about 30-40 minutes.”
Telling you when to build a new menu is pretty much the same – do it when it’s time. But how do you know when? Without any expectations, restaurants should be reviewing their menu monthly and taking note whether sales have slowed on a particular item or pricing has changed. Catering companies should follow the same process. Look for changes to normal items sales and category sales, and use those findings to make corrections and adjustments. Think about how quickly trends change these days. Five years ago anything with Sriracha was a hit, now it’s Gochujang. Also, pay attention to health trends and how they are affecting your sales. If you see a change in demand, make the adjustment.
It’s also important to pay attention to your costs and make pricing adjustments to your menu every month. Do NOT change every item at once, but you should always be changing prices. Your purchase and market prices change daily, yet oftentimes customer prices remain stagnant for months or years. If you have 120 items on your menu, be sure to adjust 10 items per month so that every item sees an increase at least once per year.
If you’re having trouble mustering energy for anything beyond price adjustments, please heed this warning: a seasonal menu is an absolute must. If you only make one change (besides price) on a regular basis, let it be this one. Always include a supplemental menu (Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall) that incorporates local, seasonal favorites – repeat the same ones each year if you must.
The most important thing with building a seasonal menu is that you stay ahead of the weather. Don’t wait till the snow is falling to write this year’s winter menu. Start planning it at least one season in advance so you have time to get organized and educate your staff about the new items.
OK, you’re thinking, easier said than done. But, believe it or not, adjusting pricing and menu offerings isn’t necessarily the hard part. The challenge is usually the technology needed to design and roll out your new menu. Take advantage of menu templates from websites like Canva or Must Have Menus which make it easy to organize your own changes and make it all look beautiful. Some services like iMenu Pro allow you to connect your menu template to your website, so changes will instantly be updated on your site. If you don’t want to do any of the work yourself look at sites like Upwork or Design Pickle where you can find reasonably-priced designers to do it for you.
Don’t fuss too much over printing. For one, it’s better to print less and plan for your printed materials to look more generic. If you must print, there are dozens of services – both local and national – that can do the job inexpensively. Check your local listings.
But even once the menus are set and printed, what’s the point of change if nobody sees it? Menu changes are an excellent excuse to reach out to existing customers on a regular basis and let them know about your new exciting dishes on the menu. In fact, get them involved in the process. Here’s how:
Get the customers involved, do your monthly research, plan a seasonal menu, but don’t go overboard. When you build a menu, too many changes can complicate an already complex business. This is why only you can know what is the right amount of change for your catering or restaurant business. Find a cadence that works for you. More is not always better, better is better. Make the changes you need to make, but don’t confuse quantity for quality.
For more information on planning menus, read here.
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