Stuck in a Menu Rut

Editor's Note: The following is one in a series of blogs provided by the experts who have worked incredibly hard to make Spike TV's "Bar Rescue" realityBar Rescue Insider program, starring Nightclub & Bar Media Group President Jon Taffer, such a success. The Bar Rescue Insider blog series will deliver tried-and-true tips and tricks to help bar owners, operators and managers solve common problems and increase their bottom line. Tune in to every Wednesday for the next edition of Bar Rescue Insider!


“We have been here for 35 years, and so has our menu.” 

When should you change your menu? This is a huge question. A food menu provides revenue for your business; it has worked for you for years. The chef knows it, the cooks know it and the bartenders… well, they know the burger comes with fries. All kidding aside, the menu becomes a part of the establishment. In certain settings, a menu set in stone can work well, but in most cases, a bar’s menu needs to be changed, updated and refreshed.

There are three main reason operators don’t change a menu:

1) “Our guests love it!” Do your guests really love the menu that your foodservice operator gave you all those years ago, the one featuring food items sold to you out of a box, the one highlighting dishes that have no health benefits at all and require absolutely no creativity?

2) “If it ain’t broke…” Your employees are familiar with the food menu, and the kitchen staff executes it properly. Servers can recite portions of it by heart. Bartenders are comfortable with the menu; they can direct a guest if needed. The kitchen manager already knows the weekly food order.

3) “That menu is a classic!” It was a classic when it was created… 35 years ago.

Bar owners and operators need to continually refresh and update their establishments. The parking lot should be swept every day, and the floors should be mopped every night. Even the outside of the building should be painted every couple of years! A food menu should be changed at least once a year, if not every six months. Are you really aggressive? Switch up your menu every season!

By refreshing your establishment — and its food menu — you are telling your guests that you want them to keep coming back! Make the commitment to your business; invest the time and money needed to be ahead of the curve. Updating the menu keeps your employees on their toes. It also will increase sales, create retention among employees and result in guest loyalty.

To figure out what need to go, first take a look at your product mix. If you have a POS system, it’s easy to find; if you don’t, start tracking what items sell by saving checks and creating a spreadsheet. After a 30-day period, you will have a product mix report, also known as a “P-Mix.”

Take a look at the P-Mix, ranked in order from most to least popular. Keep menu items in the top 30% of your list, make changes to the 40% in the middle and get rid of and replace the bottom 30%. 

To come up with new items that actually sell, ask your food representative to provide you with some information on menu trends. Food-service operators have a tremendous amount of information available at their fingertips. Remember, the more food you sell, the more money you make, and the more food that you sell the more money they make. The food-service operator is your employee. You have hired the food-service company to help you to make money! This is an underused source of information; just ask for what you need!

Research — get out there and see what is being offered in places similar to your own! What are items do you like, and what items fit your concept? Ask your staff where they eat and what they would like to see. We often forget about the voices of the people who are selling our menu; they are your walking billboards. Don’t forget to ask your guests! Print up a questionnaire and ask your guests what their favorite menu items are; then, go a step further and ask why.

Finally, test your product on the market. Run the new items as specials and see how well they sell. If the features are popular, consider keeping them on the menu permanently.