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Streamlining the menu

Question:

We are a fifteen-year-old seafood restaurant and have had two menus, one lunch and one dinner for ten years. We now want to blend the two into one, and streamline the menu mix. We have some higher end entrees that are great sellers. How do we merge the two without creating sticker shock at lunch time? Lunch average item is $9.95 and dinner average item is $16.95. I am reluctant to change portion sizes unless it is recommended. We have a $23 N.Y. Strip and a $35. Steamed Seafood Platter. Can we sell these at lunch?

– Ted McLemore, Owner, South Beach Grill, St. Augustine, FL

Answer:

Many operators prefer the simplicity of a single menu over separate menus for each daypart. The advantages are numerous: Training is simpler and staff schedules are more easily interchangeable. For restaurants that don’t close between services, there is no reset of mise en place between meals, allowing for continuous service. Some guests appreciate the consistency throughout the day, not paying more for dinner. And, as you note, a single menu invites the possibility of capturing big-ticket sales during all hours of operation.

While a single menu is the norm in diners, much of casual dining, fast casual and QSR, fine dining restaurants typically have a lower priced lunch menu. A single menu risks alienating your guests, especially if your competitors are offering lunch specials or prix fixe options.

The key question , then, since you presumably don’t intend to discount your current dinner menu to lunchtime prices, is, “Will guests pay more for lunchtime items if they are presented on a single menu?” And, if so, how much more?

Some restaurateurs make a move like combining menus based on his or her impression of what the market will bear. You should be commended for asking what is essentially a market research question to make an informed decision. You can do this yourself or you may want to collaborate with a business school or invest in a consultant. I would suggest answering your question with a two-part study:

  1. A competitive analysis of similar restaurants in your area. Price points and whether they have a single menu or separate menus are key points.
  2. A simple survey of some of your past guests soliciting feedback on the appeal and pricing of a sample combined menu. Done well, this survey can not only provide useful information but can work as a marketing tool, especially if you offer a promotion for a visit to try the new menu as an incentive for those who respond.

The combination of that information should give you a sense of how price sensitive your particular guests are overall. Responses can range from anger and resentment that you are trying to raise prices at lunchtime to appreciation that more interesting menu options from the dinner menu are available all day. Rather than seeing the response to your new menu on online review sites after the change, make an educated business decision based on market information.

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