As a food marketing consultant, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is how to go about menu planning. So we’ve put together some of our top tips to help you develop a menu planning strategy that will put you head and shoulders above your competitors.
Menu planning is critical to the success of any food outlet. A recent report by the UHY Hacker Young Group revealed that 37 of the UK’s 100 top restaurant groups are now operating at a loss. Casual dining operations such as Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Jamie’s Italian are in financial difficulties.
By comparison, fast food chain Leon, which specialises in ethically sourced food, is expanding, as is Wagamama. UHY Hacker Young Group’s insolvency specialist, Peter Kubik, observed that it’s the innovative restaurants that are pulling in the punters because they’re giving customers a unique dining experience. So if your restaurant sales are on a slippery slope, perhaps it’s time to reconsider your offering and get down to some serious menu planning.
Of course, this is blog is menu planning in a nutshell. If you need more in-depth, strategic advice about innovative menu planning, the Nina & Co. food marketing team are only an email or a phone call away on 07971 899103.
- Research, research, research
I can’t stress the importance of research enough. Menu planning isn’t about the old favourite foods you love. It’s about your customers’ tastes and preferences and what will bring them back for more.
- Who are your customers? First of all, identify your customers. How old are they? What is their background? Try to nail down the demographics. Are they young, cool, hip and trendy? Do you cater for families with lots of young children? Are they students? Perhaps you attract a lot of business people. All these things are the starting point of your research.
- Speak to your customers. Have you ever asked them about your menu selection or your prices? How did they hear about your restaurant? Are your marketing and promotions strategies effective? Do they want more daily specials? What about veggie or even vegan choices? Are you meeting their needs?
- Check out your competitors! It’s not sneaky to check out your competitors. It’s essential market research. What do they do well? What do they do badly? What can you learn from them?
- Think about food trends. Food fashions change, just like the clothes you wear. If your menu is still wearing flared trousers and a kipper tie, you might have problems. What cuisines, dishes and concepts are on-trend? Don’t just think about your local market – think big – think global!
- Post menu research development
Now you’ve done your homework, it’s time to get into the kitchen and put some of those ideas into action. This is where you test your concepts.Get your customers involved too. Inviting customers along to tasting events will not only deliver great feedback, it will encourage loyalty too! Don’t forget to ask their opinion about things like price and presentation. That’s all useful intelligence.
- Create your menu specifications
While you might know how to cook your latest menu choices, do your staff? This stage is where you create a menu specification for every dish on your menu. Don’t just think about your existing staff. Think ahead. Even if you have a loyal team, people do move on. Make sure it’s documented for any new staff you take on. Remember, consistency is critical. Your dish specifications should include:
- Ingredients and portion control – essential for consistency and your profit margins! Recipes – how each dish is prepared and cooked. Don’t leave it to chance.
- Photographs – demonstrate how the dish is presented
- ‘Critical Control Points’ – are needed to highlight any food hygiene issues
- Menu design – take professional advice on the psychology of your menu design to encourage sales of your most profitable lines. If you need help with this one, contact Nina & Co.
- The soft launch
Now you have your new menu and your team are up to speed, it’s time to enlist your customers again. Have a new menu launch evening and invite your loyal customers. If you’re feeling generous, you could do it as a free launch event. If not, offer them a discount as an incentive in return for their honest feedback.
- Finally – the full launch
Now you’ve got it – flaunt it. Start your new menu marketing campaign with all guns blazing. Update your website and shout about it on every social media channel possible.
So there you have it. Five simple steps to creating a killer menu. Remember you heard it first from Nina & Co. and if you need some expert guidance, you know who to call on.
Nina & Co. – menu planning and design a speciality!