Looking at how menus of leading chains compare to the average total menu items in their sector can be enlightening for finding the magic menu item number that works best for you. Findings reveal that sector-to-sector averages don’t align with one another, or to overall industry trends.
Take the shrinking menu effect, for example.Simplified menus have been a significant trend over the past few years, but many of the top and fastest-growing chains in several sectors deviate from this movement by posting significantly more menu items than the average. This is true in sectors like quick-service burger and casual-dining sports bars. The opposite is true in sectors such as quick-service pizza and fast-casual burger, where smaller menus bode well for the leading brands.
Total sector menu item averages
Looking at how limited-service and full-service sectors stack up against each other by total average menu items, it’s clear that full-service operators offer significantly more menu items on average.
- Quick-service coffee cafe: 116.8
- Quick-service pizza: 114.8
- Fast-casual bakery/cafe: 105.3
- Quick-service sandwich: 102.7
- Fast-casual Mexican: 77.7
- Fast-casual burger: 75
- Quick-service chicken: 72.2
- Quick-service burger: 66.6
- Fast-casual pizza: 66.6
- Midscale family style: 171.9
- Casual-dining steak: 161.5
- Casual-dining varied menu: 143.2
- Casual-dining sports bar: 140.4
In addition to sector averages, the following slides also detail the menu item averages of the five top and five fastest-growing Top 500 chains by sales and the brands with the lowest and highest number of items at those 10 chains. Data is compiled from Technomic’s MenuMonitor for Q4 2016. Check out where you stack up against your sector and your largest competitors.
Average total menu items: 66.6
Average at top five QSR burger chains: 85.4
Average at five fastest-growing QSR burger chains: 70
Highest: 93 (McDonald’s)
Lowest: 51 (Cook Out)
Despite the low sector average, the five fastest-growing QSR burger chains are slightly above the sector average, while the top players are well above. Although most chains’ number of offerings in most mealparts aligns with the sector averages, the majority of the top QSR burger chains have significantly more desserts and non-alcoholic beverages compared to the sector averages, attributing to the significant hikes in total menu items at the leading brands.
Quick-service coffee cafe
Average total menu items: 116.8
Average at top five QSR coffee cafe chains: 98
Average at five fastest-growing QSR coffee cafe chains: 73.4
QSR coffee cafes have the highest average total menu items of all limited service chains examined. The brands with the highest and lowest number of items have a drastic difference in total number of menu items. Whereas Starbucks’ strategy is to constantly evolve its menu with seasonal specialty beverages and foods, Dutch Bros. opts for a select menu of signature beverages and minimal food offerings.
Average total menu items: 114.8
Average at top five QSR pizza chains: 42.4
Average at five fastest-growing QSR pizza chains: 78.4
With the exception of Villa Fresh, which greatly skews the sector average, all top QSR pizza performers are well below the sector average of total menu items. The chain offering the next highest number of items after Villa Fresh is Jet’s Pizza, with just 70 items.
Average total menu items: 102.7
Average at top five QSR sandwich chains: 73
Average at five fastest-growing QSR sandwich chains: 58
Highest: 108 (Potbelly Sandwich Shop)
Lowest: 30 (Charleys Philly Steaks)
Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Subway are the only two among the top and fastest-growing chains to exceed the sector average in total number of items. Most other brands in this category settle midway between the largest menu brand (Potbelly) and the smallest menu brand (Charleys).
Average total menu items: 72.2
Average at top five QSR chicken chains: 55.2
Average at five fastest-growing QSR chicken chains: 57.4
Three of the top five QSR chicken chains are also the fastest-growing—Chick-fil-A, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ’N Biscuits—which explains why average total menu items are close in number. But overall, compared to the previous QSR sectors, the range between the highest and lowest number of total items is not as wide at these chains. In addition, these chains focus less on new item development compared to other chains.
Average total menu items: 77.7
Average at top five FC Mexican chains: 72.4
Average at five fastest-growing FC Mexican chains: 88.2
Highest: 158 (Fuzzy’s Taco Shop)
Lowest: 37 (Hot Head Burritos)
Unlike the QSR sectors, the average total menu items in the fast-casual Mexican sector falls between the average number of items at top and fastest-growing chains, meaning most chains in the segment are on track with the leading players as far as total items go. Fuzzy’s and Hot Head Burritos are extreme outliers among the fastest-growing chains, while Qdoba and Moe’s Southwest Grill are the biggest outliers in the top chains, with 108 and 54 items, respectively.
Average total menu items: 105.3
Average at top five FC bakery/cafe chains: 151.2
Average at five fastest-growing FC bakery/cafe chains: 138.4
Like the QSR burger sector, most of the leading fast-casual bakery/cafe brands opt for considerably more menu items than the sector average. New item development is also a major focus of these chains. For example, Corner Bakery and Bruegger’s Bagels unveiled 10 and 11 new items, respectively, in Q4.
Average total menu items: 75
Average at top five FC burger chains: 48.2
Average at five fastest-growing FC burger chains: 50
Despite having just 25 menu items, Five Guys is the top fast-casual burger chain by sales, proving that the FC burger sector is one where a small menu can still be successful. The burger chain also ties with Little Caesars as the chains with the lowest number of items of all sectors examined. The average total items at the top five and fastest-growing FC burger chains are relatively close because three of the five are in both categories—Smashburger, The Habit Burger Grill and Shake Shack.
Average total menu items: 66.6
Average at top five FC pizza chains: 45
Average at four* fastest-growing FC pizza chains: 37
Highest: 77 (Wolfgang Puck Express)
Lowest: 29 (Pieology Pizzeria)
FC pizza ties with QSR burger for the sector with the lowest amount of total menu items, on average. Those seeing the most growth in sales year over year are also the chains with the lowest number of total menu items: Pieology Pizzeria, Blaze Pizza and Mod Pizza. This proves that the majority of winners in this category are currently focusing on minimal menus with a large customization aspect.
*Only four FC pizza chains saw sales growth in the past year.
Midscale family style
Average total menu items: 171.9
Average at top five midscale family-style chains: 161.6
Average at five fastest-growing midscale family-style chains: 127.8
Midscale family-style chains have the largest menus on average compared to all other sectors examined. But with the exception of Black Bear Diner (194 items total, with a heavier focus on adult beverages compared to the other top and fastest-growing chains in the sector), all five of the fastest-growing midscale family-style chains have significantly fewer menu items than the sector average, proving that some of these up-and-comers are focusing on more streamlined menus compared to traditional chains such as Denny’s (204 items) and Bob Evans (196 items).
Casual-dining varied menu
Average total menu items: 143.2
Average at top five CDR varied menu chains: 201.2
Average at five fastest-growing CDR varied menu chains: 227.4
CDR varied menu’s top players have the greatest range of total menu items compared to all other sectors examined, from 356 at Kona Grill (the highest of all chains in all sectors examined) to 127 at Del Frisco’s Grille. With the exception of Del Frisco’s, all nine of the other top and fastest-growing CDR varied menu chains offer well above the average total menu items for the sector.
Casual-dining sports bar
Average total menu items: 140.4
Average at top five CDR sports bar chains: 226.8
Average at five fastest-growing CDR sports bar chains: 236.6
Highest: 335 (Duffy’s Sports Grill)
Lowest: 116 (East Coast Wings + Grill)
Like CDR varied menu, the average total menu items in the CDR sports bar sector is significantly lower than the averages for both the top and fastest-growing CDR sports bar chains. However, the averages at the top five CDR sports bar chains are very much in line with the average of the five fastest-growing chains in the sector.
Average total menu items: 161.5
Average at top five CDR steak chains: 191.4
Average at five fastest-growing CDR steak chains: 159.8
Highest: 256 (Logan’s Roadhouse)
Lowest: 33 (Tucanos Brazilian Grill)
Of the sectors examined, CDR steak has the greatest average total menu items. Tucanos, with only 33 menu items, greatly skews the sector, being well below the next lowest number of items (162 at LongHorn Steakhouse). With the exception of Tucanos, most CDR steak venues unveil large LTO menus each quarter.