When a restaurant or bar has enjoyed decades of operation, making changes to the menu can be an intimidating task.
If the business has never changed hands, it’s understandable for ownership to show no interest in deviating from a successful formula. This industry is a challenging and often fickle one—why mess with a good (read: profitable) thing?
When someone new takes control of an established business, often seen as a staple and pillar of the community, a balance must be struck between honoring the successful history of the venue, ushering it into current times so it’s relevant for the future, and putting new ownership’s stamp on the place.
That’s one of the lessons learned from Chef Brian Duffy’s latest Instagram Live menu reading. Running a bar or restaurant means making tough decisions—operators must feel free to make changes or do something different if they believe it will benefit the business.
Make Smart Changes
Chef Duffy read through Beechmont Tavern’s menu and offered tips not just for the venue specifically but for operators in general. The fact that the Beechmont has been in operation since 1928—just over nine decades—and changed hands in 2010 was not lost on Chef Duffy or his IG Live menu reading partner Jeremiah Batucan.
As risky a move as changing the decades-old menu of a restaurant or bar worthy of purchasing can be, be afraid to make any changes can mean a quick shortening of its life expectancy. Not exactly the legacy a new owner wants to leave behind when taking on the responsibility of steward for a community—and regional—landmark.
“You, as an operator, need to be able to say I want something new, I want something different,” said Chef Duffy during his live read. “Or, I need something better.”
A little detective work revealed that before new ownership took over, the menu was more scaled back than it is today. The Beechmont’s specialty was wings for many years. Over the past decade, new ownership has expanded the menu, offering several starters, burgers, sandwiches, wraps and salads.
Be Discoverable & Consistent Online
Speaking of detective work, a venue’s menu is the last thing someone should have any difficulty finding. As Batucan pointed out during the live menu reading, potential guests may choose one of a bar or restaurant’s competitors if their menu isn’t searchable and easy to find online.
This is a lesson that Chef Duffy learned when he bought an existing restaurant. During the live, he shared that he had made changes to the on-premises menu but hadn’t made them online. The result was a disconnect: Guests who looked at the menu online came into the restaurant but found their expectations somewhat circumvented.
His solution was SinglePlatform, a company that updates menus online across the board for absolute consistency. The more consistency a business has online, the better their SEO and their online ranking. The better your ranking, the more visible the business. For $100 per month, Chef Duffy has peace of mind. Instead of spending hours updating menus all over the internet, he emails a single person and they handle the rest.
In addition to the value of accurate and consistent menu posting online—helping guide guest visit choices and driving business on- and off-premise (for those offering delivery)—a menu is a branding tool.
“Your menu is a billboard for everything you do,” said Chef Duffy, one of the core lessons he tries to drive home to every operator.
If an operator wouldn’t put a billboard on a freeway with spelling errors or imagery that isn’t consistent with their brand, they should take care to avoid doing the same with their menu. Details as small as a missing comma matter—make sure everything is perfect.
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Operators should have someone with a critical eye they can show menus to, someone who can identify even the “smallest” of mistakes before they go to print and online. In fact, managers and team members should go through the menu and report any errors they see. From there, an owner or operator can send the menu with that feedback to their trusted third-party reviewer, be they a friend, family member or industry peer.
The first thing Chef Duffy noticed when reviewing the Beechmont’s menu was how it was “super condensed.” The first page has 37 items on it, complete with options in between items where necessary.
“This menu, to me, reads like a US Foods or Sysco catalogue,” said Chef Duffy. To be clear, these items may be made inhouse, and Chef has no problem with either foodservice company. However, he cautions against sourcing too many items from such companies rather than operating as much as a scratch house as possible. Plus, informed guests may be hit with the same perception as Chef, which could be detrimental.
Without singling out any company, Chef Duffy warned that not all foodservice companies or sales reps always have the best interest of a venue in mind. Sometimes, an overzealous rep may be pushing items that they feel the company wants or needs them to move to free up their own inventory.
The Beechmont’s large menu, addressing inventory for a moment, seemed like “a nightmare” for the kitchen to Chef Duffy. He also felt that it pointed to the tavern maintaining a massive inventory.
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Starters like mozzarella or zucchini sticks should, in Chef Duffy’s expert opinion, be made in house. In many cases, such starter items are considered outdated by today’s standards. However, if they’ve been working and the numbers show that they continue to sell, being deemed “outdated” doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be removed.
Chef Duffy appreciated that the overall burger description (type of beef, options available, etc.) were listed at the top of this section. However, he would prefer that the Beechmont not use a bolded text for that menu element, explaining that typesetting it that way draws the eye away from the different burgers themselves.
Noticing that burgers come with French fries, Chef Duffy recommended making that an upcharge item. Instead, operators can lower costs and increase profits by making a chip the standard burger or sandwich accompaniment, offering fries for an upcharge.
“Look, people love French fries,” he explained. “People are willing to spend money on French fries.” Many of today’s guests prefer a healthier option, which can also be offered for an upcharge.
Chef Duffy noticed two other elements of this menu section that could provide a boost in revenue: pricing and the separate burger descriptions. Many of the burgers were slightly altered repeats of one another offered at the same price. First, the signature burger should be priced the highest, and any special signature sauces should be given a compelling name.
The opportunity for the Beechmont in this section is tiered pricing and create-your-own burgers. Chef suggested coming up with a CYOB price point, be it $10.95, $11.95 or $12.95. (A note on pricing: Chef Duffy prefers whole numbers to .95 or .99.) There was bacon of most of the Beechmont’s burgers and one had bacon plus guacamole. That last item is now a $2 upcharge in most restaurants. A CYOB option would allow the Beechmont to lower their costs by passing them on to guests willing to pay to customize their meal.
Guacamole isn’t the only expensive item in this section. Vegetarian and vegan patties can be very costly, so Chef recommended making tasty black bean burgers inhouse and freezing them. Operators can review their numbers to anticipate how many black bean burger patties they’ll need each day, then drop them in a fryer or cook them on the flattop.
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The photos of the burgers were attractive and Chef Duffy was a big fan, but he cautioned operators to take great care when including photos on menus. The food coming out of the kitchen must match any photos or the guest experience can take a significant hit.
The first thing that caught Chef Duffy’s eye in this section was in the description: “You may substitute a different side for $1.95.” When referencing sides that can be substituted, they should be listed in the section description or immediately after the final item in that section so that guests don’t have to go hunting for them.
Chef liked all the sandwiches on the menu but thought they may be outdated. However, he noted that if they’re original menu items or newer menu items that are popular and selling, “outdated” is irrelevant.
Wraps & Salads
A few opportunities sprang to mind when Chef Duffy reached this section. First, like the burgers, this section is poised to leverage a tiered pricing system to boost revenue.
Second, this section lists hotdogs. Chef warned that if anyone is offering a hotdog for more than $9.95, it had “better be awesome.” Gourmet hotdogs can perform well, so Chef recommended offering upcharge items in a shaded box to draw the eye and increase checks.
Finally, Chef recommended dropping the prices of the salads—but coming up with upcharge items. This will boost revenue and gives guests the opportunity to create fun and tempting salads, improving the guest experience.
Like Chef Duffy, I’ll put this bluntly: he doesn’t like including a dessert section on the primary food menu. And yes, he has sound logic to support his adherence to this “rule”: When a guest comes in for a meal, they pick up the menu, choose a starter and an entrée, perhaps a salad, and then surrenders the menu. Even if they scanned the dessert, most guests didn’t visit for dessert, so it’s not top of mind and has been forgotten.
Instead, Chef prefers to create a secondary dessert menu with five or six options listed. As one IG Live menu reading participant pointed out, this menu is also a great place to list dedicated dessert cocktails. On that topic, Chef suggested putting an international spin on dessert drinks: Mexican hot coffee, Irish coffee, etc.
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Better yet, create a dessert tray to go along with that dedicated dessert menu. According to Chef, dessert trays increase sales of those items by 60 percent. Another added benefit? The kitchen team is tasked with creating fun items with fun presentations, giving them a creative outlet.
Overall, Chef Duffy enjoyed the Beechmont Tavern’s menu. As long as items that some people may declare are outdated today have remained popular and are making money, there’s no dire need for ownership to remove them. Chef saw tiered pricing, build-your-own elements, and upcharge items as viable opportunities, and pointed to the savings that can be realized by making more items inhouse.
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He also offered this final word on his suggestion for increased and tiered pricing: Revisiting pricing is more crucial than ever as minimum wages continue to rise across the country. Pricing from just a couple of years ago is likely not high enough to sustain increased labor costs and every operator should review their menus to see where their opportunities to boost profits lie.
Ready for more? Chef Brian Duffy will return to the Nightclub & Bar Show this year to helm the F&B Innovation Center. He’ll be joined by a high-performance team of nine incredible chefs: Nick Liberato, Kayla Robison, Monti Carlo, Tu David Phu, Jennifer Behm-Lazzarni, Pete “Panini Pete” Blohme, Chad Rosenthal, Matt Varga, and Kevin Des Chenes. This dream team of culinary creatives will be doing live demos and presenting food-driven panel discussion. You do not want to miss out on this opportunity to build your culinary program into a strong moneymaker—register today!