Optimizing Menus in a Post-Pandemic World
A good menu mix is strategic and balanced, driving sales and profitability. I believe menus must continue to be smart and efficient in 2022, but menus will require periodic reviews for optimization.
When optimizing your menu, it is important to include your signature items and best sellers of course, but what about the rest of the menu? In this age of mobile ordering and easy access to technology to “check out” your menu, make sure you can satisfy a wide variety of consumers with fewer items that you can produce reliably as the supply chain and labor markets stabilize.
Top of mind for restaurateurs is supply chain. Go more local in your purchasing and be sure to call out local sourcing on the menu. Menus should be constructed to cross utilize ingredients as much as possible. Be sure to balance the number of proteins so that you can be sure of having available options on hand if one protein source is temporarily interrupted.
Offering fewer menu items leads to better cost control and isn’t necessarily bad for the guest. An optimized menu might have fewer items, but fewer items are easier to reliably produce with existing and/or new staff. Menus need to be easy for customers to order online and when dining in to improve throughput when productivity per employee needs to be high. With labor shortages, training to a streamlined menu makes sense.
In this post-pandemic world, there is now more focus on health and immunity boosting foods. “Better for you” menu items are hot according to The National Restaurant Association’s annual, “What’s Hot Culinary Forecast”. Professional chefs that were surveyed predict that 2022 restaurant menus will place a greater emphasis on healthy living, with immunity boosting foods and plant-based foods being part of the top ten trends for 2022. Immunity boosting foods like extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes, nuts and seeds, even dark chocolate, can be highlighted as a better-for you option on your menu. Have a professional, like a registered dietitian, help you find the already existing superfoods on your menu or suggest new additions. Make sure you promote the delicious better-for-you options on your social media and marketing channels.
Plant-based menu items will be important in menu planning this year. Americans are planning to eat more plant-based foods, according to a 2021 report by FMCG Gurus. While a relatively small percentage of consumers are vegan or vegetarian (~15 %), 60 % say they eat a meatless meal at least once a week. Work plant-based options into your menu to attract those consumers that want to eat less animal protein. Remember that plant-based menu items can give you less expensive alternatives that can offset the supply chain and pricing issues sometimes experienced with animal-based proteins.
As you plan your menu, make sure you have available options for customers with special dietary needs. One person who is concerned about your menu can veto the entire party. Allow customization of menu items, use cleaner label ingredients with fewer allergens, and intentionally create menu options that can work for a broad range of needs.
An optimized menu will position you for success, and we are all ready to emerge from the pandemic doing the things we love again, with full dining rooms and busy kitchens.
Lisa Eberhart, RD, LDN
Director of Nutrition and Co-founder Menu Analytics