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HotOperator Restaurant Menu Makeover

Mamas Asian Menu Before

Mama Asian Noodles Menu

There seem to be two schools of thought about menu design and engineering. First, there are the actual menu engineers who look at restaurant menus as a tool for enhancing the ordering process. A professionally engineered menu will engage consumers in a way that helps them navigate the menu and find items that offer a significant value both in terms of plate contribution and brand support. And then there are those who look at the menu as a necessity that they try to crank out as cheaply as possible with little thought about how that might impact their business over time.

Chef Mike Ponluang, the owner of Mama Asian Noodles in Ft. Lauderdale was in the second camp, making his menu on his own for many years. But he almost immediately changed his mind once he saw the menu matrix for his restaurant. When he saw his sales report scattered into four quadrants, he began to understand the significance of analyzing his menu in a way that allows the true stars and workhorses to clearly emerge, and for the first time he understood the connection between his menu and his customers.

Mamas Asian Menu AfterAccording to Technomic, Pan-Asian foods, which include Korean, Southeast Asian and Vietnamese, are all among the “next big thing” in American ethnic favorites. And the Mama Asian Noodles sales report supports this view, with Thai and Japanese offerings selling alongside Korean and Vietnamese recipes in similar quantities.

None of this mattered to Mike when I told him about his bright future. Like many Asian Americans I’ve worked with over the years, Mike is steadfast about his business … almost to the point of being Zen in the urban sense of having a state of focus that has a much higher intensity with regard to his customers than most other restaurant operators I work with.

Monitor Your Sales As Well As Your Purchases

It has been my experience that most restaurant operators are very aware of their food purchases and inventory, but they tend to be less aware of their sales. Sure, they have an idea what is selling, but they seldom look at their sales in any formal way. And Mike was no exception. In his more than 20 years in business, Mike had not run a scatter graph on his sales nor had he painstakingly developed a theoretic food-cost analysis.

A scatter graph is a product matrix that breaks each menu category down into one of four categories: Stars, Puzzles, Workhorses and Dogs, based on food-cost percentage, contribution to margin and product popularity. Stars are items with an above average-popularity and an above-average profitability; Puzzles are products that struggle to sell well, but when they do, they generate a higher-than-average profit for the business; Workhorses (sometimes called Cash Cows) are products that are above average in sales volume, but below average in profits; and finally Dogs are neither popular nor profitable, so often when we want to trim the menu down, we look at Dogs first as items to drop from the restaurant menu.

Once the menu is divided into those four categories it’s easier to make decisions about which items might be enhanced in some way to help them become more profitable and more popular, and which items we might want to divest of, as well as what price changes we might be able to make to increase the overall profitability in the restaurant.

In Mama Asian Noodles’ case, the scatter graph showed that consumers were a little overwhelmed by the number of items being offered in general. Furthermore, consumers seemed to be having trouble navigating the menu, so they were ordering many of the more common items that could be found in nearly any Asian restaurant. And because Mike’s customers were only buying common Asian items, Mama Asian Noodles profits were held low by significant competitive pressure. As an example, the Pad Thai is a ubiquitous item on Asian menus, and because you can get it pretty much anywhere, it is a very price-sensitive item. It’s like a burger at an American restaurant or spaghetti at an Italian restaurant. To help change the ordering in Mama Asian Noodles to some of Chef Mike’s more interesting items, we decided to emphasize categories that contained more unique products that were mostly hidden on the previous menu.

As an example, we put an emphasis on the signature entrées that included the Chilean Sea Bass with Thai Red Curry, the Roast Duck and the Steak Teriyaki marinated in Mike’s signature sauce, all of which offered a plate contribution of well over $15.00 (based on a menu price minus an average of 38% food cost percentage). In this way, we were able to draw consumers into those items, which on the previous menu had only a marginal following, thereby increasing the profitability in Mike’s restaurant pretty significantly.

Make Your Menu About What’s Good Rather Than What’s Cheap

Asian Food Shrimp VegetablesThe absolute worst thing you can do on any restaurant menu is to make your menu into a price list. A price list is when you have the product names followed by a bunch of dots and then the prices all lined up to one side, which is how the Mama Asian Noodles menu was previously designed. And by the way, I see a lot of menus that don’t have the dots but still have the prices all lined up. And while this method is not as big of a mistake, it’s still a mistake to do this, ever, on any menu. I just cannot stress this enough — do not make your menu into a price list. It’s simply bad for business and puts way too much emphasis on money, rather than on what’s good. What people will do is search the prices first and make their decision based primarily on the item cost. In many cases, consumers won’t even look at the product description, but will instead look at the price, the item name and settle on what they perceive as the best value.

Instead, pull the prices into the product categories, making the prices the same type size and style as the rest of the copy, and just leave one single space between the last word in the product description and the price. Do not change the color or make the price bold, but instead, just put the price at the end of the paragraph and allow your guests to read the paragraph to help them decide what to order based on the merits of the product. If you get only one thing from this article, it should be this: Do Not Make A Price List! And even if you just printed your menu yesterday, you will make back every penny of a reprint in just a couple of days if you get rid of the price-list menu and tuck those prices into the product descriptions.

Highlight Your Menu To Help Guide Your Guests

When a guest enters your restaurant they want to know what you recommend. They know you have a good idea what’s great on your menu, and they want you to tell them. It’s just bad etiquette to deny them your guidance. The restaurant business is one of the only businesses on planet Earth that encounters such an open-minded customer. And it’s pretty much the only voluntary business type that is guaranteed a sale when a customer enters the store. So it’s your job as a business owner or manager to make sure every guest who comes in for a meal knows exactly what you recommend.

And it’s not good enough to tell your customers that everything is good. Sure, it wouldn’t be on the menu if it wasn’t good, but that’s not an answer. The best way to approach highlighting your menu is to find several items that you can confidently offer that have three distinctive qualities: 1, They are items that you make better than anyone else, or better yet, are exclusive to your business in some way; 2, They are items that are fairly easy to make, yet not easy at all for your customers to make at home, and 3, They have a higher-than-average plate contribution. And by plate contribution, I’m not talking about food-cost percentage, which can be misleading, but rather I’m talking about dollars to the bank. In other words, the product can have a 50 percent food-cost percentage and still be a great item because it generates more actual cash to the bank than most of the other items on the menu.

And call attention to your best items on the menu with specific highlights. Make sure that when your customers look at the menu they can tell immediately what you recommend in your restaurant. As an example, on the Mama Asian Noodles menu we highlighted several items with a change in background color, change in name type color and an actual box to border off the items we want consumers to try. If Mike takes a few moments every day (yes, server training is an everyday task) to reinforce those items with his servers, they will sell better. And when they do, Mike will make more money in his restaurant (and so, too will his servers in higher tips).

You’re A Professional, Get Professional Design Help

Mama Asian Menu DesignA restaurant is successful because it offers special foods, an exclusive method for preparing those foods and a unique décor that sets the foods apart from any other restaurant. And yet so many restaurant operators try to find a way to make their menu themselves either by using a menu development program or finding a cookie-cutter style menu process on the web. And then their menus wind up looking almost like those in every other restaurant up and down the street. In the mind of the customer, the restaurants all start to blend together. And when that happens, your products become more about price than about an experience that can only be gotten from you.

The Mama Asian Noodles menu was no exception. The previous menu looked like it had been sprayed onto the pages with a garden hose, with huge blocks of type and little prices all lined up waiting to be judged. Nothing about the menu was interesting, positioned properly or had any of the Mama Asian Noodles brand emanating through it. This does a huge disservice not only to the brand, but also to the consumer, because it essentially takes all the romance out of dinning at a restaurant. And it tells the customer that you don’t care enough to do something better.

Dinning at a restaurant is like a mini vacation. It should be fun and exciting, and the menu should enhance the experience rather than detract from it. When your customers hold your restaurant menu in their hands, the design needs to tell them they came to the right place, the food is going to be really terrific, and you’ve thought this whole experience through to the smallest detail.

And finally, the menu should tell your guests not to try making these same delicious foods at home on their own. Which is sage advice that will benefit you and your sales, as well.

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