Get Duffified: Updating Your Outdated Menu

“We're in the greatest place for food we've ever been,” said Chef Brian Duffy.

The gregarious chef also said during his 2016 Nightclub & Bar Show session that food costs are the lowest they've ever been, partially because now we use the entire product. Additionally, the pretentiousness of the '70s, '80s and '90s is gone. When pretentiousness leaves, fun shows up. Now that we’re in this great place for food, your menu needs to change.

Operators who say they haven't changed their menu for 10 years and claim that their guests have never complained don’t seem to realize what that says about them and their bar, nightclub or restaurant. To Chef Duffy it means that those guests don’t trust those operators to do anything new. Wouldn’t you like to try something new and have your guests be supportive rather than skeptical or repelled?

There are risks inherent to updating your outdated menu. It costs money to train your staff. It costs money to reprint menus. It can push you out of your comfort zone. Guests may become upset about some of the items that end up being removed. Your staff may not embrace the menu changes, and guests may balk at updated prices.

However, updating can also be rewarding. Menu changes present opportunities for new promotions. They also heighten guest retention because they perceive that you’re doing something for them. Since most people don’t like doing the same old thing all the time, your staff will be excited for change, as will your guests. Updates to menus also present your staff with the opportunity to upsell, meaning they can make more money, and we all know that’s why your staff works for you. Menu updates keep your business fresh and relevant, no small feat today.

Still not convinced?

“Our guests are more educated than they ever have been,” Chef Duffy said.

Today’s guest take a look at your menu, see words they don't know, pull out their phone, and Google them. They can also discover new and hot food trends, see where and what their friends are eating, and compare your menu to your competitors’ menus. Consumers are also equipped to snap photos and send them out into the world, with either positive or negative messages. You don’t have to reinvent your entire concept but why wouldn’t you want to compete, attract new guests, excite loyal customers, and make more money?

If you’re still on the fence, consider this question from Chef Duffy:

“What are you going to do? Keep making bigger and bigger menus so you don't have to eliminate items?”

Clearly that’s not a good idea; you’re going to have to remove a number of old items and replace them with new things. Doing so is the first of several things Chef Duffy recommended operators do to update their menus:

  • Learn to use your POS because the average operator only uses about 15% of their system’s capabilities. Then, look at your numbers and come up with a performance number (breaking level) that either means an item is kept or eliminated. Stick to that number!
  • Once you’ve learned to really use your POS and have looked at your numbers, remove your dead sellers.
  • Track the features you run to see what works.
  • Involve your FOH staff in order to get their feedback and criticisms. After all, they interact with your guests.
  • Track current sales through POS.
  • Examine profitability.
  • Change plating and presentations. We’re in the world and era of social media. Make it easy for people to share your menu items with their friends via their social media channels, engage with your brand, and interact with you.
  • Be seasonal and pay attention to what's on your menu that works or doesn't work with the current season.
  • Involve your kitchen staff. Unfortunately, many operators never tap into the kitchen staff as a resource. Much of your kitchen watches Food Network, Spike TV, reads up on trends, etc., and they want to make new items and be proud of their work.
  • Hire consultants.
  • Involve your guests with comment cards. Do not, however, use these as a marketing ploy. Don't ask for birthdays, anniversaries, addresses, or other personal information. You can consider about adding a little map and asking where they live, what brought them into your venue, what they ordered, and what they would like to see on your menu. Keep it simple and offer 10% off their next visit, adding a line for a manager to sign.
  • Be consistent. If something doesn't look like it did the previous day, you can't send it out.
  • Cut out the cancers in your business. That means firing the bottom 20% of your staff.
  • Do a protein count every day. Duffy counts everything at the end of the day.

Chef Duffy shared some great ideas for updating outdated menus. You can consider offering smaller portions, as well as changing your plating. Interesting and popular sides present opportunities for increasing spends. Bigger and bolder flavors such as salty, spicy and sweet combinations are becoming increasingly popular with consumers, as are vegetables and gluten-free options. Finally, look at ethnic food items for inspiration, seasonal items, and new dishes.