Menu Modifiers: When Less is Much More for Guests

There are more demands on the human attention span than ever. Prescriptions for attention deficit medicine are ballooning. Could it be that we’re just being inundated with too much to keep track of and it’s not that attention is waning but that demands on it are increasing? The definition of the word “restaurant” is derived from Latin for “restore.” Yes, we go to restaurants to feel restored, not just fill our bellies. That said, some customers actually appreciate having fewer choices than more choices. We’re talking about “menu modifiers.”

Menu Modifiers - Chipotle Menu Simplicity
Chipotle Menu Simplicity

Menu Modifiers

“Menu modifiers.” Where instead of just listing “Chicken Cesar Salad” on the menu, a well-meaning chef also adds under that description options to put every other type of protein held in house on the same salad (i.e. “or add Shrimp for $3.95 more, or add Steak for $4.95 more, or add Lobster for… and on and on – doing this systematically for each menu item). This becomes overwhelming and creates unnecessary clutter and confusion on a menu. It also creates way too many SKU’s/PLU’s in the Point of Sale System and complicates training. Just because you can make it doesn’t mean it needs to be an item listed on the menu.

Another way to look at this is to consider the menu ordering systems of both Starbucks and Chipotle. These are two of the best in the business. While the combinations of ingredients could add up to yield millions of different unique menu items, the ordering process is set up as a very intuitive and simply process of customization. There are four or five categories of choices but the combinations are limitless.

For the typical casual dining restaurant, the average number of items should be around 55-65 (Cheesecake Factory by comparison has 200 items – but the math works out since they do $10.9 million per location. This would be way too heavy for operators doing significantly less volume). If you add up your menu items and there is sign you have too many items to run efficiently, consider dropping the menu modifiers or switching to a different ordering system. This will help increase your through-put and both your customers and staff will appreciate your efforts to make the menu more simplified and straight-forward.

Restaurant Consultant


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