How to Evaluate Your Restaurant's Menu

Posted on May 13, 2015 by Michelle Locke

Establishing a successful menu is often the first hurdle for new restaurants. But evaluating your menu for success and prices is something that all restaurants should do quarterly—or at least every six months! We have a few tips for determining if your menu is as strong as it needs to be—and how to make those changes.

1. Are your prices in line with what you pay for ingredients?

This is one of the most complicated aspects of evaluating a menu: are you charging enough for a menu item, too much, somewhere in between? This requires a lot of brainwork and math. Firstly, you need to determine how many servings of a certain ingredient you need on average. For example, say you service four sandwiches in your restaurant that come on honey wheat bread and you need two slices of bread per sandwich. Now, how many of each type of sandwich do you sell every day on average? How many slices of bread come in a package? How much does each loaf of bread cost?

All of these questions factor in to determining if your price is fair. If a loaf of bread costs $4 and contains enough slices of bread for 10 sandwiches, the bread cost for each sandwich is $0.40. It’s complicated, but taking the time to re-evaluate what you charge is important to ensure that you’re breaking even!

2. Are you ordering too much or too little of certain items?

Do you find yourself rushing to the grocery store on Saturday evenings to buy extra lettuce for your restaurant? It happens to the best of us, it’s true! But if you consistently find yourself running short on ingredients, you need to evaluate if you simply aren’t ordering enough of them… or if cooks aren’t following recipes and using too much up that ingredient.

You might also find yourself frequently with excess items. Does your lettuce go bad too often or do you end up with tons of it? If you find yourself throwing away ingredients that went bad, you might need to reconsider ordering less of those items more frequently.

3. Are certain items selling—and others not?

Here's another example: you are famous for your wings; you offer five different varieties. However, your head cook points out that most people only order original and spicy—but not the other three varieties, which means those ingredients (sauces and spices) go to waste. Is it worth it to keep them on the menu if no one orders them? If this is happening, review your POS system to determine just how often people are ordering one menu item—and if they ever order an alternative. If a menu item isn’t selling, cut it. If customers ask for it, you can always make it a special.

4. Are your servers upselling?

The success of a menu depends on your servers knowing their way around it. We’ll return to the example of wings. If everyone orders just original and spicy, are servers pointing out the other great flavors, like garlic parmesan or honey BBQ? If regulars order the same thing each time, it would be a good idea for servers to encourage them to try a new favorite—and maybe change the tide for those forgotten menu items. Upselling training is a difficult part of server training, but it is important for the success of your menu!

5. Ask regulars: “What do you like best about our menu?”

And of course, “What do you like least?”

To have a successful menu, that might mean a visual redesign as well. If regular—or new!—customers find your menu difficult to read, too long, or hard to navigate, it is probably a sign you need to redesign. This might mean cutting infrequently ordered items, large photos, and more. There are studies that show how successful placement of certain items can increase their sales.

These are just a few tips for evaluating your menu for success. The main focuses should be on your staff, their use of ingredients, and their ability to sell certain menu items.
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