Who is Determining Your Menu?

Editor's Note: The following is the fifth in a series of blogs provided by the experts who have worked incredibly hard to make Bar Rescue InsiderSpike TV's "Bar Rescue" reality 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 Nightclub.com every Wednesday for the next edition of Bar Rescue Insider!

I love going out to eat: I have spent 40 years as a foodie and the past 20 years perfecting the dining experience. Some of my favorite restaurants have been in business for more than 20 years, and I always love visiting during a menu change. When my favorite places switch up their menus, new items aren’t pulled from the air and forced down guests’ throats; instead, dishes are featured in-house for two to three months and are only selected for the new menu if they receive rave reviews. Revamping a menu is a science! Why take a chance with your brand by not testing new items?

Think of your menu as prime real estate — beach-front property. The menu is a part of your establishment’s brand, concept and mission. Additionally, the items on your menu can create a larger return on your investment.

A great menu has a unique balance of items rooted within your establishment’s overall concept. The goals for your menu should be three-fold: creativity, profitability and versatility. For example, imagine your menu features “The Greatest Burger in the World,” which is topped with an innovative mix of cheddar cheese, braised mushrooms, candied onions and applewood-smoked bacon. Although the burger costs $2.51, you can sell it for $8.99 with a food cost of 27.8%, creating a profit of $6.48. Now imagine having a secondary use for all of the items on that burger. “The Greatest Burger in the World” fulfills the three goals! Can you hit all three goals with every item on your menu? If so, you’ve got a winner!

So who is determining your menu? And who is deciding the fate of your ROI? Are you sitting at your kitchen table, thinking, “I hate Caesar salad! I don’t want it on my menu!” Are you saying to yourself, “I make the greatest liver and onions — we absolutely have to have that!”

It’s time to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself the following:

• What is your concept? What theme are you going for? Are you running a neighborhood bar and grill or an upscale trendy nightclub?
• Who is your target audience? Are you catering to the working man who is stopping by after work for his 2.5 beers and a burger, or are you catering to the 25-to-35 crowd who is hanging out after 11 p.m. on a Thursday night?
• Why is this particular item on your menu? Are you placing an item on your menu because it is a local favorite? (For example, I live in Philadelphia, and every local establishment has some version of a cheesesteak on the menu.) Are you placing the item on your menu because a random person said you have the greatest meatballs?
• Where are these items going to be placed on the menu? Have you decided which items will be boxed or highlighted?
• What are your signature items? What sets you apart from the next guy? What is your “wow” dish? What items on your menu are creating reactions?

How to Stay Out of Your Own Way

Working in this business, I meet a tremendous number of people with large amounts of pride. I have a lot of pride myself, but I learned a long time ago that pride can be blinding when it comes to business. I have worked with clients, owners and chefs whose pride has stepped in the way of their business. The phrase, “I can’t take that off of my menu because…” only can be followed with the words, “my guests love it — it’s one of my top five best sellers!”

Here is a little test:

Survey your servers, bartenders and cooks. Ask each person to list the eight best-selling items on your menu. Now look at the item-usage report — also known as a sales-by-category report — in your POS. See what matches up. Most likely, you will find that most of your servers listed items not because they are especially delicious or have a low food cost, but because they are easy to sell or fast coming out of the kitchen. Make sure you have evidence to back up your menu choices!

Find your concept and niche and stick with it. Choose menu items based on guest popularity, food cost and return on investment rather than sentimentality. My rule of thumb is: Figure out what items you do well and focus on them with laser-like precision. Your guests, your staff and your wallet will thank you.


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