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6 min read

Earlier this week we discussed limiting your menu items, today we are going to discuss creating new menu items that can take the place of 2 or 3 old items. Further, we are going to explore your restaurant’s “voice” to determine the similar styles that should exist across menu items.

Find Your Restaurant Voice

What flavors or plating techniques exist on your most popular menu items? Do you have specific techniques or flavors? You should.

The items on your menu should

carry similar qualities that set you apart from your competition. This can be something as simple as different plates, but ideally includes a flavor dynamic. A semi-frequent visitor to your restaurant should be able to tell which menu item came from your restaurant in a side-by-side test.

This isn’t limited to just higher end restaurants. Even if you use pre-formed burger patties with iceberg lettuce, you can still add a unique touch. Enhance with a unique seasoning blend, an interesting lettuce chop style, or serve your burgers on a unique bun. You could arrange your fries in a cone or cup, lay them flat all in the same direction, or pile them up high underneath the burger. Put a unique garnish with it. Instead of a pickle spear, serve it with fruit, or a unique sauce, or a candy bar. Whatever, you choose to do, try to carry a similar theme across all of your menu items. This “voice” will be associated with your restaurant and help your brand stand out from the competition.

Build Off Of Your Stars

Now that you have determined your restaurant’s voice, we’ll talk about the types of menu items you should look at creating. Note: If you didn’t read the last article about Stars, Cash Cows, Problem Children, and Dogs; you may want to start there first.

You need to build off of your stars. You know that these items already make you a lot of money and are also very popular, why not seek out more? What makes your stars stand out from the rest? Is it a specific ingredient? Is it menu positioning? Is it just a safe and common item like a burger or a pizza? Determine what is most likely why your guests gravitate towards these items, and then create similar items that they may also enjoy.

If your most popular item is a common item, create another menu item that puts a unique twist on it. Add pineapple, or hot sauce, or a unique cheese, that give your customer an opportunity to order something similar but also adventurous.

For less common popular items, look at tangential tweaks you can make to the original item. Instead of a standard Reuben, introduce a Turkey Reuben with coleslaw instead of sauerkraut. If the Pulled Beef is popular, try a pulled pork or maybe serve an open-face beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Note: Do not eliminate your stars to recreate them. Keep your original item and create a new related item. There is no point in destroying a star to potentially create a new one. If your new item fails, you still have your popular original.

Tweak Your Cash Cows

Take a look at your cash cows. These items are already popular. Is there an easy way that you can switch out one ingredient to make this item much more profitable without sacrificing the base flavors of the dish? If, so try experimenting with a switch. If you get major backlash, you can switch it back. If you get little resistance, you just turned your cash cow into a star.

If you can’t change the ingredients, look at slowly raising the price in order to make this item more profitable. Keep in mind that the price may have been the reason they were ordering this particular item, so you may see drop offs when doing this. Track this to check if they are transitioning to a different item. Track to determine if the fall off is affecting overall profitability or if you are still making similar income due to the increase in price even though you are serving a lower volume. We’ll talk a bit more about tracking below.

Elevate Your Problem Children

Rework your problem children with more popular ingredients. Try subbing out a chicken breast for a burger with the same sandwich base. Make a salad into a wrap or sandwich or vice-versa. Small changes may affect your profitability on each item, but it should only be a small change; And, if you sell many more of that item, you will be able to make a greater profit overall while helping cash flow.

Use The Ingredients You Have

When reworking your menu, try to include ingredients you already have. Avoid the temptation to add a bunch of new items. This will only increase your order quantity, increase spoilage, and reduce profitability. If you must add a new ingredient, make sure you incorporate it across several different menu items. By doing this, you will be able to increase the possibility that ingredient gets used before spoiling. It will keep your ordering more consistent and your food waste in line.

Track Everything

Whenever making menu changes, be sure to track as much as possible. Did a menu item drastically reduce in popularity? Why? Did you change its position in the menu? Are guests favoring a new similar dish? Is the new ingredient in the dish scaring people away? Ask yourself questions and compare it with the data that your POS is telling you. Look at how price changes affected overall profitability and cash flow. Don’t just track the money though; track customer perception, track food waste, and even ticket times. All of these will change any time you change something on your menu. Be sure you are informed and are making the best decisions for your restaurant. Use the data you gather to make better decisions the next time you perform menu changes.

Adding new menu items should be thought out strategically, and you shouldn’t add new menu items just for the sake of adding new menu items. Track your sales, and build off of your money makers, with a little research and creativity, you can end up creating some wildly successful dishes.