Smart Menu Planning

A Complete Guide to Smart Menu Planning Post Covid

As an operator preparing for foodies to re-enter your restaurant post-Covid, smart menu planning (also known as menu engineering) is crucial to maximizing profits and not letting anything go to waste. It doesn’t feel good when you see ingredients being thrown out because they expired and weren’t being used and it doesn’t feel good knowing you are literally throwing money away.

By slimming your menu down and selecting high-profit low cost items, you can plan for a menu that will make you money and keep customers happy and ordering more.

Remove Less Popular Items

Your customers won’t miss it because they aren’t ordering it. By identifying menu items that are not selling and removing them from your menu, you can decrease waste and make room for more popular meals. Once you’ve purged unpopular menu items, you can move more favorable foods and beverages to the top of the menu. Make them bold and add a star next to them so customers can identify star dishes.

You can’t remove necessary items without knowing how much they cost to make. Do you have a system that ties recipe ingredients to actual purchases for real-time recipe costs? When was the last time you costed out your recipes? What is the food cost on your top moving items? Pull sales reports from your POS system and rank the items sold. Now is the perfect time to move those slow moving, high cost, low profit dishes off the menu.

Convenience vs. Scratch

Consider what value you are adding to the product by producing from scratch. There are food and beverage options produced for convenience that cost less and just need a little unique touch before serving. These products can be a great substitute to menu items that are normally made from scratch. Why not save both time and money by using already prepared products to create your meals? Asking your distributor for options that represent manufacturers with convenience products is a great way to introduce new menu items and make sure they fit your brand and menu application. Work with your distributors to understand what types of preprocessed products they have that may fit your menu and can help reduce labor.

“Look at your core menu and what you’re known for. Focus on that and continue to simplify your menu and figure out what will translate best for takeout services and delivery. Then, if there are areas where you can incorporate convenience items into your menu, do it. Do not replace items your known for with convenience items but look at what switches you can make to continue to follow through with labor and cost savings.” – Rob Wallauer, Corporate Chef, Unilever Food Solutions

Try utilizing frozen goods as a replacement to their fresh counterparts. This is a great option for more flexible applications. When looking at what can be made from frozen ingredients vs. fresh, try to think of the structural integrity of the ingredient in the final dish. Let’s take chicken noodle soup as an example. The chicken in this soup will have been cooked, diced or pulled, and left in the soup for a longer period of time. Do you really need fresh 6 oz breasts to be roasted off for this soup? Or could you utilize an IQF chicken breast of any size to accomplish this? You can save additional dollars on this ‘commodity chicken’ by working with your distributor to understand what they have in their warehouse at the lowest cost per pound. Even if it is frozen, with good planning you can have an adequate supply of chicken and save on the food cost built into this soup. But it doesn’t stop at that chicken, let’s also look at the vegetables as well, because products like diced mirepoix can be purchased frozen in mix or as separate vegetables from your distributor. Now not only are we saving food dollars, but our prep cook can get back on the rest of their list instead of wrestling a knife through a carrot.

Are You Using Ingredients in More Than One Place?

Ensuring that ingredients are cross utilized is paramount in driving profitability at your restaurant and is very helpful in the front line operation. When looking at menu item performance and food cost metrics, walking through each of the ingredients in a particular menu item to know how many dishes this ingredient is utilized in is a perfect exercise to run through with each menu change cycle and addition.

Your star items (high profitability/high popularity) have enough performance and profitability to make sense having a few unique ingredients to them. But where this practice becomes more valuable is when looking at those items flagged as high profitability, low popularity. If you have a menu item that is particularly profitable but maybe lower volume of orders on that menu item, it makes the most sense to make sure that every ingredient in that dish is utilized in at least one or two other dishes.


Offer Alternative Menu Items

Home meal replacements are one way to keep guests interested. Now is a great time to start looking at how your guests could ‘get their fix’ by ordering pre-prepped meals for them to finish at home. Maybe it is your famous ravioli or pasta that can be packed into disposable pans with baking instructions. While you want all patrons to be dining in, you also need to understand that some diners will prefer to get their favorite dishes via curbside pickup or delivery, which can add significant volume to any daypart. You can also offer family meals as another alternative to bring in revenue. The beautiful thing about family meals is that they can be priced towards the lower end of your normal per person check average but can be higher on the profit margin considering reduced packaging and food cost with the right strategy.

Smart menu planning is vital for a restaurant operator to make it in the post-Covid environment. Paying close attention to menu offerings and how they relate to your business labor and profit margin can mean the difference of a restaurant keeping its doors open and customers coming back. Dining Alliance can help you focus on profitability and make sure you are maximizing the ingredients you use every day!