How to Change Your Restaurant’s MenuThink it’s time to update your offerings? Restaurant owners and experts share three best practices for making a switch.
One of the most common reasons for undertaking menu overhauls is when customers are unsatisfied. Some customers might have voiced their opinions about a restaurant’s food, or you might have noticed that sales are low on certain items. Other times, you might sense it’s time to update your concept, as trends like farm-to-table cooking and seasonality grow in popularity.
Certain food trends may also necessitate new additions to keep up with what customers want when they go out to eat.
Jenny Dorsey, a New York-based culinary consultant, said that menu changes can also be dictated by who is in the kitchen.
“If there’s an excited executive chef, he or she is probably experimenting continuously,”she said.
Whatever the reason, here are three best practices restaurant owners should keep in mind when making a menu transition.
Adjust with the seasons
Many chefs and experts recommend adding new items based on the season because it’s an easy way to freshen your menu and save money.
“[Seasonal dishes] are the easiest for the waitstaff to explain and ‘sell’ to the customers,” Dorsey said. “It also is a great way to minimize ingredient cost and build some excitement around the change.”
Andrea Soldini, the executive chef at Miusa Wine Bar in Brooklyn, said that using ingredients at their peak means they will have the best taste and quality, since farmers don’t need to seek alternative growing methods to keep farming a particular ingredient out of season.
But, Soldini warned, make sure you are aware of what’s to come in the next season and how weather patterns may be affecting the crops you’re seeking to use.
Plan how you will roll out changes
Every restaurant is different when it comes to making small menu fixes or large overhauls.
Tweaks and incremental switches, such as adding a few additional sides, changing parts of a larger dish or adding a dessert, are easier to implement and train wait staff on.
“It saves time and is a subtle surprise for regular customers,” Soldini said. Such modifications also generally don’t cause friction with regular customers who may be resistant to change, so they can be implemented quickly and with less fanfare.
Bigger menu revisions such as removing popular dishes, changing the focus of the food completely or raising prices should be done all at once, as opposed to dish by dish. “Any changes that will cause friction with the customer should be grouped together with branding and messaging, but small changes that are neutral or good for the customer can be done in tidbits,” Dorsey said.
Announce your new menu
With any new variation to a menu, it is crucial to ensure that kitchen staff and, most important, wait staff are properly trained on the additions, according to Dorsey.
“Changing the menu is a big group effort that requires buy-in from every level, from the porter to the sommelier to the cooks to the owners,” she said.
Before introducing new offerings, Dorsey recommended practicing how wait staff will communicate the additions to customers at the table to ensure everyone is aligned on how they should sell particular dishes. Address how wait staff should answer common questions as well.
Training wait staff isn’t enough, though. New menu items should be clearly marked on the menu itself.
“The most important issue to address is why, and painting the changes in a positive light is important,” Dorsey said.
Be sure to also update your website and social media outlets to communicate with as many customers as possible.
Before implementing anything permanent on your plate, practice until perfect.
Soldini recommended bouncing ideas off the front-of-house staff, kitchen team, sommeliers and management, since flavors differ on every person’s palate.
“The right way to change your menu is to go into it fully educated and with a clear concept,” he said. “Be crazy, have fun with it, and experiment before making final decisions.”