Taking Cool Menu Design to the Next Level
When I first met with Mike Buda he told me the unemployment rate was up and spending was down in his community. He said that with all the layoffs in his market it might be impossible to grow his business at all. With an unemployment rate approaching 15% it must have felt like an impossible situation. Keep in mind it was 2005 when we first started working with Mike, three years before the bottom would fall out of the economy nationwide.
The first restaurant menu development project we did for Mike started with a restaurant menu matrix. At that time, Holly’s was selling a reasonable number of sandwiches, some wings, appetizers and almost no desserts or entrees. Mike mentioned that entrees had always been a tough sell, but that they had really started to decline with his previous menu changes. Mostly this was due to the position on the menu dedicated to entrees, as he placed them on the back page, which is a dead section that most restaurant patrons never look at.
Many restaurant operators think that their customers are different. They’ll say things like: You don’t understand my customers; or people in my area are not like they are in other parts of the country. They mostly think their guests are cheaper than they are in other markets. And that kind of thinking is a self-fulfilling prophecy. They start with the premise that their customers are cheap and then they do everything they can to attract that very customer and sell them items that cost little and make even less.
In the case of Mike from Holly’s, he had introduced entrees after the business had been open for a number of years, and they didn’t immediately take off. Then he placed these items on the back page, which only helped to bury them even further. And when we looked at the matrix, sure enough, they weren’t selling.
Something else we noticed by developing a menu matrix was that Holly’s menu struggled to sell anything over $5.00 in gross profit. To add to the downward trend, Mike had not taken a price increase in years, and in his last menu reprinting had actually taken his prices down a little.