The payoffs of menu simplification

Restaurants find measurable success in making options more straightforward.

By 
Sara Rush Wirth, Senior Editor

menu prototype

Diners have menu board anxiety. The number of items on menus peaked in 2013, with an average of 153 items per menu across the Top 500 highest-grossing chain restaurants. “It’s like reading a phone book,” Robert Byrne, senior manager of consumer insights at Technomic, said at this year’s FARE Conference in Dallas.

As part of its Consumer Brand Metrics program, Technomic asks guests to rate a few aspects of dining in order to measure their perception of chains. What it found was that when the number of menu items went down, several satisfaction scores went up.

Better descriptions

Part of the reason scores went up, according to Byrne, was that reducing the number of menu items leaves more space to talk about what’s special to each item. Twenty-seven percent more consumers choose menu items that are more descriptive, compared to those without details.

Specialization

Both casual-dining and quick-service chains are taking a cue from fast casuals. Shake Shack has just 36 items on its menu and has seen 57% five-year sales growth, according to Technomic. Consumers today care less about the wide variety of options, and more about fresh ingredients.   

Customization

With a limited menu, customization still allows guests to have choice. Said Byrne, more than half of consumers say customization is important in creating good value—and 53% of millennials seek out customizable solutions.
 

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
eggs

Loyola University Maryland took a new approach to all-day breakfast with an egg-focused concept.

Breakfast options were top of mind for students when asked what they would like to see on the menu at the university’s revamped Boulder Garden Cafe. Instead of creating an all-day breakfast station, however, the Baltimore-based dining team went beyond traditional options and created a concept that services all mealparts with eggs.

“It can be somewhat mundane,” says Executive Chef Don Crowther on why the team strayed away from the trendy all-day breakfast. At the eatery’s Sunny...

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Kansas has added a retail pass that allows students to purchase one to-go combo meal per day at cafes and markets on campus, the University Daily Kansan reports.

The pass is available on two different meal plans and is geared toward on-the-go students who don’t have the time to sit down and eat at a residence hall.

“It has increased the participation rate,” Jamie Reed, a service assistant for the school’s dining services, told the University Daily Kansan.

Over 1,800 students have used the pass since its debut at the beginning of the semester....

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Minnesota dining team has created a vegan student group in an effort to improve the school’s vegan offerings, Minnesota Daily reports.

The group was created by the school’s foodservice vendor, Aramark, and its campus sustainability coordinator, who is vegan, after receiving numerous complaints from students about the lack of vegan options on campus.

The group will this week host its first meeting, during which members will be able to share feedback and provide solutions to help enhance the school’s vegan offerings. Members will also keep a photo journal...

Industry News & Opinion

Panera Bread Co. announced today that it intends to buy the Au Bon Pain brand as a way of opening more bakery-cafes in colleges, healthcare facilities, office buildings, travel centers and malls.

Au Bon Pain, which was Panera’s sole business under an earlier incarnation of the company, consists of 304 bakery-cafes. Several units are located in noncommercial venues.

Panera owns or holds the franchise rights to about 2,050 restaurants, few of which are located outside of strip malls.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Immediately after the deal was...

FSD Resources