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Perfect Restaurant Menus for Imperfect Restaurant Times

“COVID-19 has really screwed things up.”

That statement by one of my clients recently summed up our current times pretty well. January through the beginning of March looked pretty good. Not the best year for many of my clients, but not bad. Then Coronavirus struck like a bolt of lightning and started to shut things down. The clients I have in states that opened early had a very brief relief from the virus until the cases started to spike and shut things down a second time.

The restaurant business isn’t going to be the same any time soon. The idea of a bar with wall-to-wall people and standing room only waiting for tables seems like a distant past. And the sad truth is, most restaurant operators simply cannot make it on 60% or even 70% capacity.

I spoke with a long time client just the other day and he told me he thought about shutting down except he has a couple of his kids working in the restaurant and needs to keep them employed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The restaurant business needs to be rethought. Right down to the menu.

We have two menus that have been productive for our clients recently. An expanded carryout menu, and a placemat menu. Both of which are great at being cost effective, and still engineered to help promote the right foods at strategic prices. And by the way, it is important to take a price bump now. Our industry is going to need a shot of cash, and a strategic price increase is a great place to start.

HotOperator PlacematCarryout Travel Menu

HotOperator has been redeveloping the carryout menu to make it more productive and cost effective. All of the engineering techniques we use on any FSR menu are used, but we lay the menu out in a way that makes it fit a smaller, less cluttered look. In this way, we can provide our clients with a very inexpensive menu that will bring a higher return on investment for our restaurant partners.

Does It Travel?

We recommend trimming down your menu to items that travel well. We also recommend cooking up everything you sell and letting it sit in a car for half an hour to see how it holds up. This is the only way to know for sure if what you are selling will represent your brand when it gets to its final destination.

If You Can’t Sell Pizza, There’s Something Wrong

Do you have a sports bar? Start selling pizza. Do you have a family restaurant? Again, start making pizza. Pizza travels well, it’s cheap to make and will help boost your carryout and delivery business. Just make sure the pizza you offer supports your brand. If you are an Asian restaurant, you don’t need pizza. Same goes for a Mexican restaurant. But other than that, you may want to consider pizza.

Placemat Menu

Normally for kids menus, we have been making placemat menus for the main menu for our clients and it’s working pretty well. They are cheap by comparison, you don’t have to clean them and you can even offer conversation starters, riddles and doodle diagrams to keep everyone entertained while you cook.

If your guests steal them, no big deal, right? You were going to throw them away anyway. The only downside is, they are not able to hold as much stuff because they have limited space. But we are recommending trimming down our client’s menus anyway. Focus your business on the stuff that sells well and brings a higher plate contribution and drop the stuff that doesn’t move as well.Pizza Delivery

Make Money Despite The Crisis

Back in the day (like March), a restaurant operator could make the business look profitable with enough volume. At 4¢ on a dollar, you simply dragged people in kicking and screaming and fed them. At the end of the day a little money was left over and you went to bed, got up and did it again.

With Coronavirus, that tactic no longer works as well. At between 40 and 70% capacity, there simply isn’t enough coming in to cover for a low profit business. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a business here. It simply means that in order to make the business work, you have to reach for 10 to 12% profits. To get there, you are going to need to focus on items that bring a higher plate contribution. That and introduce items that can bring a solid volume and still support those higher profits.

Don’t Try This At Home

HotOperatorTo get higher profits from your menu, focus your business on items that consumers would struggle to make on their own. This has always been the long-card for restaurant operators, but a lot of restaurant operators allowed products that are easy to make at home onto their menus. Essentially, many restaurant operators got lazy. They put meatloaf on the menu, but not a meatloaf with any added value. Then they said ‘mama’s meatloaf’ as if it was something special when it was just a simple meatloaf.

Moving forward, the restaurant industry is going to need to refocus their business on items that offer a true consumer value and a point of difference. The meatloaf is going to have to become a mushroom and provolone rolled meatloaf with burgundy gravy, lumpy mashers and candied carrots. Something special, different and better than ‘mama’ would ever have made.

You Need A Menu Matrix

A professional menu matrix and menu review will help you get the core items you want to keep, figure out the items you want to drop and will uncover the next star for your business. This breakdown is essential for any restaurant operator in a time or crisis or not. Fall is a time of change for consumer spending and their tastes. But before you start working on a new menu, get an objective look at your menu.

To do a proper menu matrix, we need three things:

1 – A PMIX for a 3 month period. This is a product sales report from your point of sale.

2 – A copy of your current menu. This can be a PDF, but it needs to include your current prices and must align with the PMIX>

3 – Food costs. If you know them. If not, we can figure that out for you.

What you get back is a clear direction for your menu and restaurant moving forward. This is a difficult time. HotOperator can help with very effective menu design engineering, printing and advice for getting your business back in black.

About HotOperator

HotOperator is offering a consultation to help you navigate these difficult times. Reach out before it’s too late. A simple email to get things started, and we’ll be there for you. We are committed to the foodservice industry. We love restaurants. We want them to survive. But we can’t do that unless we work together. Let us help you with romancing your restaurant brand.

Mark & Kelly LauxM+K Laux dba HotOperator is a farm to table marketing consulting firm. Mark and Kelly are a marketing team and managing partners of HotOperator. They have been working in the food business since 1989. Either can be contacted through the HotOperator website, or by calling 800-316-3198. or contact Laux here.