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When should you list a menu item twice?

wedge salad plate

Question:

I spend a lot of time explaining variations on the same menu item. For example, we have our version of a wedge salad. It’s available as an appetizer for one price with an optional protein, or as a lunch entree. But it’s also on the dinner menu as an entree with the protein already included. It ends up being cheaper to add steak to the app than to get the exact same thing as an entree. I was told the variation is “from corporate.”

– Server, Pennsylvania

Answer:

Your question reminds me one of my restaurant pet peeves—seeing a lunch and dinner menu at the same time (usually at dinner), with the exact same item listed at different price points. I get that we do it and why, but there’s some value in keeping restaurant marketing behind the curtain.

To be sure, there is good rationale for offering variations on the same menu items: efficiencies in purchasing, inventory management and preparation. And while guests may be savvy enough to figure out that the chicken Parmesan is the same cutlet as the chicken Milanese until they order and cooks prepare its desired form, restaurants do not need to shout their efficiencies from the rooftops.

It seems like there are two issues here:

  1. How items are being menued.
  2. How valuable consumer feedback is being communicated to the company.

 

In terms of the menu, I think there are two ways to go. In cases of a small or manageable menu, it’s best to menu things once. For example, if the wedge with optional protein is available under salads, servers can know to sell it as an entree if desired. There's no need to print it twice and add confusion or overwhelm the guest with options. However, for operations that have telephone-book-style menus, as you would find in a diner or upscale casual-dining operation, printing each item once risks the item—especially a high-margin item—being lost. In that case, I do see the value of printing the item, for example, under both salads and steak options. If you go that route, however, menu descriptions and pricing need to be identical—being able to say it’s the same dish solves your frustration.

In your case, the descriptions, options and pricing are not consistent, which creates confusion for the guest, slows you down, and potentially cuts into the margin of the operation (since you can ring the item in the POS at a lower price). It seems to me you have valuable information to bring to the attention of management—they should have a structure to capture these insights if they don’t already.

More on better menu design here.

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