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.
 

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