How to Build a Menu: Scaling Your Menu

Welcome to part four of the menu development series. In part one, we went over the 14 fundamental elements of developing an iconic menu; from the ideation stage through to the final testing and sale of your items. In part two, we discussed how to present a menu that’s created for different mediums like print, online ordering, and digital. And in part three, we covered simplifying your menu design for improved execution.

In this installment, we'll discuss how to scale your menus for growth and consistency across multiple locations.


Over the years, I have been teaching the framework for success around six key characteristics that winning brands within this industry all have in common: being scalable, sustainable, profitable, memorable, consistent, and disruptive.

When you’re considering multiple locations for your bar or restaurant brand, while all of these characteristics are important, the two that are arguably the most important are being scalable and consistent.

Being scalable means that your concept is capable of being easily expanded, upgraded, or even downgraded on demand. For example, providing your brand with a system designed to handle proportionally very small to very large usage and service levels almost instantly, in different markets, and with no significant drop in cost effectiveness, functionality, performance, or reliability.

Scalability also means providing the brand with the opportunity to pivot with market changes and to position your concept to grow in a strategic manner through a mix of revenue channels, menu changes, pricing changes, and socio-graphic changes without losing its values and brand promise.

Being consistent means having a high level of systems in place that help drive scalability along with the other noted characteristics. It also means having a high level of standards in place. Having the correct systems in place will create consistency, develop operating capital, enhance your team morale, and build business value while positioning your concept for future growth opportunities.

Who are two bar and restaurant brands that embody all of these characteristics—specifically scalability and consistency? Let’s look at Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux and Sweet Green as two key examples.

Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux

Based in Baton Rouge, Lousiana, Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux was founded in 2003 by Brandon Landry and Jack Warner, both LSU basketball walk-ons. Guests at their multiple locations throughout 15 different states will enjoy a Louisiana-inspired menu featuring made-from-scratch dishes including Crawfish Etouffee, Duck & Andouille Gumbo, and Krispy Kreme Donut Bread Pudding. Plus, with dozens of TVs around the venue, it has become a go-to destination for a sports dining experience.

While the staples on the menu remain similar at all of their locations, there are subtle changes to the menu in terms of options and pricing structure based on market. Pending market location, the ‘Bistreaux Specialities’ change along with pricing on the staple bar-fare items. For example, their new (8) bone-in chicken wings are advertised for $11.99 in Alabama but $17.99 in Nevada—due to an increase in operating costs being located ‘on the strip.’

While the price changes, the same flavor can be found at both locations. The same for the crawfish, gumbo, and bread pudding. With locations throughout the U.S., they have built relationships with their vendors, they understand their local market, and they have mastered the art of consistency within their respective locations because they have simplified systems in place that create scalability.

Sweet Green

Today, with over 140 locations across 13 states and counting, Sweet Green “obsesses over making really, really good food, and it all starts with sourcing, curating, and thoughtfully preparing the best ingredients out there.”

What Sweet Green does is they partner with like-minded local artisans, suppliers, and chefs who share their same brand values and brand promise. 

Sweetgreen's menu features simple, fresh, and unprocessed ingredients, including 30+ plants that stay whole until their team starts chopping. They have “built a network of local growers and suppliers—more than 200 food partners across the country, such as farmers and bakers.” Their supply chain is organized into regional distribution networks that align retail proximity with cultivation to allow for more transparency and sustainability.

Despite all of that, you can order the exact same ‘Shroomami Bowl’ in Hollywood, California and in Capitol Hill, Washington, DC. – though the price differs by approximately $1 USD based on the market.


A post shared by sweetgreen (@sweetgreen)

It’s Not Easy

But it’s not that easy—or is it? I recently visited a steakhouse (I won’t mention their name) in Canada that has locations throughout the country. At one location in Toronto, I had a NY strip that was perfectly grilled and seasoned. On a business trip not long after that, I visited a location in Calgary only to receive a steak that was not perfectly grilled and seasoned. What was different? It was missing the seasoning.

I am sure we can all say we’ve had mixed experiences at some brands who have grown to multiple locations. There are often visible growing pains, which often indicates a gap in their systems and standard operating procedures.

Having the right systems in place that create consistency and standards must be priority number one when it comes to not only scaling a brand—but that of a bar or restaurant menu.

Recipe Management

From supply chain management down to front line production, recipe management is the ultimate system that needs to be implemented for your brand and its menu to scale, and for your brand to deliver the memorable food & beverage experience that your guests have come to enjoy—no matter which location they visit.

Every item on your menu must be standardized. Every item must be tested (and tested again) and then portion controlled with documented procedures that are easy to train on and easy to duplicate. You must keep refining the standardization until it is nearly impossible to make a mistake from one location to the next (like forgetting the seasoning).

This doesn’t mean, however, that you start to reduce the quality. For example, don't switch from fresh vegetables to frozen vegetables if fresh vegetables are an ingredient you’ve used for years.

With the right leadership in place along with truly built relationships with local, regional, and national suppliers, you can keep that same quality that you’ve always offered. This becomes a more simplified process if you follow the 14 elements towards an iconic menu and streamline your menu to your ideal audience—thereby keeping the menu small and targeted.

Let’s be honest—standardizing 12-15 menu options versus 40+ menu options is a much easier task that will simplify the supply chain, inventory management, and training program for your brand.

New Menu Items

Standardizing for additional locations in different markets outside of your first local municipality doesn’t mean your future locations cannot get creative either. A unique “local market” menu category such as the example shown with Walk-On's or a limited-time offer (LTO) program would be perfect to showcase creativity while using local flavors and available ingredients. As long as these local menu items compliment the standard menu and the menu items stay within the lane of your brand, it's a win for you and the customer.

Pricing Changes

As the brand scales into different markets, the pricing may also change (and that’s okay). While we will dive into this more in the next article on menu technology, if you implement a dynamic menu program that keeps track of your menu and ingredient costs in real-time, all of your locations can adjust their pricing based on actual cost of goods as these costs may fluctuate from coast-to-coast.

If a burger for example costs $4.25 to produce in one market and $5.25 to produce in another market, they should not be sold for the same price. The same can be said for your overhead costs that may fluctuate based on market and foot traffic, thereby impacting your break-even threshold; case in point: Walk-On's Alabama versus Walk-On's Nevada.

In Summary

Scaling your brand and your menu doesn’t have to be complicated if the right systems and framework are in place first—within location number one and with the correct support team of suppliers who are ready to scale with you.

It also takes a mindset towards simplicity along with an understanding of recipe development, inventory management, menu engineering, and the use of efficient data to help make decisions on when and where to scale—all of which we will highlight in the next and final installment: “Menus and Technology.”


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