How menu gap analysis benefits noncommercial operations

Photograph: Shutterstock

The food world is getting smaller, and consumers are exposed to a greater number of cuisines earlier in their lives. Noncommercial operators need to have a finger on the pulse on the flavors and trends that interest diners―but how?

A menu gap analysis makes operators aware of what people are eating, and this knowledge presents the opportunity to serve more people. The analysis should include a mix of concrete data and qualitative observations of the marketplace.

For concrete data, there are foodservice research companies that are constantly collecting extensive relevant foodservice industry data. Additionally, if an operation has detailed sales data, they can create a gross sales data matrix, which maps menu items’ profitability and popularity onto a quadrant.

The matrix allows facilities to figure out their most popular items, which may not always be the most profitable, but may bring other benefits to the operation. If there are items that are not popular or profitable, operators can consider taking those items off the menu and testing LTOs to see if they perform better.

Market trends can be monitored in a number of ways:

  • Subscribing to trade publications and newsletters for insights
  • Seeing what’s happening on the East and West Coasts, as this is often where trends start
  • Browsing grocery stores to see what’s earning space on the limited shelves

For facilities that serve the public as well, such as a hospital with a cafeteria for visitors, it may be worth reviewing nearby restaurants’ menus. The goal is to offer enticing dishes to keep customers at the facility, as opposed to going off campus for the meal they want.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that just because a competitor is serving something, it doesn’t mean it’s better or that it’s the direction an operator should go. Onsite observations are also critical. A third-party partner spending time during each daypart to see the flow of the operation and watch the interactions can give a better idea of what’s happening in the kitchen—and provide an external perspective.

Based on these learnings, recommendations for new menu items can emerge. It is important to understand the equipment, employees’ skill sets and the storage space so that recommendations align well with the operation’s capabilities. Menu items should also adhere to any nutritional requirements and consider potential conflicts with medicines. Versatility is also important, as new additions to the menu should require minimal new ingredients.

For example, a menu gap analysis for one of AFP advanced food products llc’s customers revealed that the customer needed more appetizers or shareable menu items. Adding chorizo to AFP’s Queso Blanco cheese sauce created queso fundido, a tasty and versatile menu item that can be served as a dip or a topping for French fries. And, it not only added the shareable element that the customer needed, but it also allowed for an upgraded entrée, since it could be ordered as an add-on.

In addition to filling a menu gap, this new menu item offered operational benefits. Wait times were short as the cheese was ready to serve, and labor was saved compared to traditional methods where employees had to melt the cheese. The product also cost less than conventional cheese and didn’t require specialized equipment like a broiler or heat-resistant containers.

The investment in a menu gap analysis can uncover insights that will benefit an operation’s bottom line, ultimately recouping the cost of the analysis through profitable, on-trend menu items.

This post is sponsored by AFP advanced food products llc