The Recipe of a Restaurant: How to Break into the Industry

Open for Business

Have you dreamed of owning your own restaurant? Maybe you’ve sketched out what the exterior would look like on a napkin, daydreamed about what you would serve, or even picked out your china?

But have you ever thought of taking this dream one step farther and putting your ideas to work?

If you’re looking to bust into the restaurant business but aren’t quite sure of what you would need to do it, we’ve compiled the largest pieces you need, into one guide. And because opening a restaurant is no easy task, we spoke with Rob Coffaro, owner of Coffaro’s Pizza in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, to get his expertise on the subject.

Coffaro's Pizza

Prep Time

Concept- First things first, you need a concept. This may be something you already have under belt, but if not, you need to cement what your vision is for your restaurant. Having a more concrete concept can help you carry the elements you want into your restaurant more clearly.

Location- Whether you’re taking over another restaurant or building from the ground up, you should have your location. Talk to your realtor about the different options for your commercial venture. This will impact how you finance your restaurant.

Finances- How you finance will largely depend on your situation. If you are so lucky to have been saving up in your personal savings account, these liquid funds could get you on your way. If your credit is in good standing, a credit card could be a viable solution, depending on how much you need. Another option could be a restaurant specific loan or a Small Business Administration loan. A restaurant specific loan is not bound to a specific need and has a varying interest rates and terms, depending on the size of the loan. Based on the financial institution, this loan can have many different names but serves the same purpose. An SBA backed loan can offer lower down payments and longer terms to the business owner but can be difficult to qualify for. To qualify, a business must meet size requirements, be in good financial standing, be in the for-profit industry, and meet the credit requirements of the lending institution. Instead of going the commercial route, you could also have investors help fund your restaurant. If these are friends and family, remember that while the money can be convenient, it can also be a strain on the relationship.

Business plan- After you’ve analyzed the risks and you’re ready to take on the responsibility of owning your own business, it’s time to create a business plan. This plan gives you a guiding light when things seem dark or what to do next. When documenting your business plan, be sure to include information on your concept, team standards, design, target market, market overview, financial risk, business structure, and external individuals that will be helping you run your business (like a lawyer or accountant).

Legal matters- If you plan on serving alcohol or having a BYOB policy, make sure you check your state’s liquor license laws. Some states can take longer than others for this process, so if this applies to your business definitely get a jump on it!

Slice of Advice- Be Organized

Mix in Your Ingredients

Write your menu- It’s time to test out what culinary creations will grace your menu. Use focus groups of friends, family, and other chefs to narrow down what fits your restaurant’s style and flow. Make sure to also include various substitutions to accommodate guests with food allergies or dietary restrictions. When designing your menu, you need to keep in mind the physical look of the menu, how categories will be presented, and the pattern in how it’s read.

Network- How are you going to obtain the ingredients of your daily fare. Research foodservice vendors on price, quality, and delivery time but also keep local farms or vendors in mind. A great way to build relationships in the community is to partner these homegrown businesses which could help get your foot in the door for future events.

Get social- Start creating a buzz about your establishment. Choose two or three social media platforms that you are well-versed in (or are prepared to master) and begin showing the world what makes your business unique. You have a great opportunity to show the beginnings of your restaurant, from the first time you walk through the door to opening night. Use it!

Dimensions- Space planning can give you important figures such as your capacity, how many pieces of furniture you can order, and the image of how your restaurant will look at the end. There are many requirements that restauranteurs need to implement in their layout. Whether large or small, your restaurant can be planned out before you purchase a single piece of furniture.

Filling the space- To complete your restaurant, you will need commercial furniture and restaurant equipment (think refrigerators, ovens, etc.). Be sure to purchase products that promise quality and durability. Don’t forget to also pick up dinnerware, napkins, cooking utensils, and silverware to run your business smoothly and efficiently. It’s also time to finalize your menus and send them off to print!

Safety is key- In most states; you need to have a pre-operational inspection done before your restaurant opens. During this inspection, there should be absolutely no food on the premises. The pre-operational inspection confirms that your restaurant is compliant with health laws.

Build your team- The amount of upper-level management you need will depend on your business structure and size but most restaurants have a general manager, assistant manager, shift leaders, and chefs. You will want to look for individuals that are successful in recruiting, supervising, and budgeting. When your management team is in place, you can start hiring the wait and kitchen staff. From top level management all the way to the first-time job holder, training is important for seamless, united customer service.

Slice of Advice- Hiring

Let’s Get Cooking

Get your feet wet- Have your soft opening a couple weeks before your grand opening that introduces your business to the community. This lets your future customers get to know you and get excited that you will be opening very shortly.

Call your health inspector- Directly after your soft opening, schedule an operational inspection with the health department. Staying up on these issues is important for the longevity of your business.

Make it an event- For your grand opening, make sure that you are present and available. This is the time to enjoy your handiwork and introduce yourself and your team to all those who came out to support you. You should invite some sort of press outlet, but you may want to also hire a photographer to attend. Designate a staff member or friend to be in charge of social media that night, this is an event you will want to remember.

Slice of Advice- Do the Math

Enjoy Your Final Product

So your restaurant is now a full-blown operational business. That’s awesome, but the hard work is just beginning. You need to keep up on budgeting, food safety, licenses, and your customers’ overall experience. It’s important to keep in mind that while it may be simpler to hire the accountant and just leave the finances to them or hire an assistant to focus on staying up to date on licensing, you need to be involved. Just because your restaurant is open does not mean you can stop researching and educating yourself. Let this and every ounce of customer feedback drive you to become a better restaurant and business. You need to be involved with each workings of your business to protect and nourish it every step of the way.

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Popular Restaurant Trends Throughout the Years

Popular Restaurant Trends

How many times a day do you see blog articles pop up on social media titled “25 Most Embarrassing Food Clichés of (insert year here)”? And once your curiosity has gotten the best of you and you’ve clicked on these articles, you see a list teeming with negativity about food and restaurant trends from years gone by. While these articles can be entertaining, hindsight is always 20/20.

It’s safe to say that the restaurant industry has had plenty of changes occur from its inception, some of them better than others. “New” trends are difficult to come by in the restaurant industry, with many ideas being perfected over the years. But as restauranteurs, it’s necessary to look back on restaurant history to see what’s coming in the future.

The 1950’s

The 1950’s easily became the golden era for American restaurants. The Great Depression and war were a thing of the past and left the economy booming. This time of prosperity made it simple for other industries to flourish as well. Due to improvements in the nation’s highway system, the need for stops along interstates grew. With more and more travelers on the road, franchise restaurants became more in demand.

McDonald's in 1954

Photo from allday.com

Many of these franchised restaurants are still popular today. In 1954, the McDonald’s restaurant we know today was bought from the original McDonald brothers and transformed into franchise gold by Ray Kroc. McDonald’s was not the first fast food restaurant, but the assembly-line system was revolutionary for fast food restaurants to come. Kroc was able to turn this humble hot dog stand into a quick and efficient franchising opportunity. McDonald’s franchise model became a beacon of success for other restaurants, like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dairy Queen, to follow in suit.

Highway System

Photo from nesbittrealty.com

With the highway system improvements also came advancements in the automotive industry. The 1950’s was filled with car culture; so why would restaurants be any different? While the first drive-in was opened along the Dallas-Fort Worth Highway in 1921, the 1950’s were the true heyday of drive-in diners. Serving up burgers and shakes, sometimes on skates, these diners became social hangouts for teens and families alike. The drive-in trend continued through the 1960’s and then declined with the increasing number of drive-through options in restaurants.

The 1960’s

Steak and Ale Menu

Photo from cravedfw.com

Although processed and junk food captured much of the baby boomers’ attention, it wasn’t the only trend happening in America at the time. Steak and Ale (casual dining) began offering a salad bar buffet to guests, keeping them occupied while waiting for their dinners. Soon enough, salad bars were popping up in steakhouses all over the country as a way to customize a guest’s appetizer.

Dining in the 60's

Photo from petermoruzzi.com

This decade was also defined by the meats served in restaurants. Most entrees at this time were focused around beef of some sort. Beef wellington, steak Diane, and Swedish meatballs were all popular beef dishes of 1960’s. In middle class restaurants, beef and lobster (or surf n’ turf) dinners were commonly seen on the menu.

Howard Johnson's

Photo from slate.com

At this point in history, there was an increasing emphasis on family time outside the home (vacations, a meal out, etc.). Popular restaurants of the time, Japanese steakhouse Benihana and Howard Johnson’s were often patronized by these families looking to spend quality time together and bond over dinner. In the 1960’s, dinner became more than just food and more focused on the emotions associated with it as a family.

The 1970’s

The 1970’s marked the beginning of environmentalism as the newest social cause, affecting the food and restaurant industry. Changing their tune from the 1960’s, customers wanted healthier options that were unprocessed and uncomplicated. This shift led to a rise in vegetarianism and health food stores.

At this point in time, there was a shift in gender roles. With a larger number of women in the workforce, restaurants were used as experiences with the family or a chance to get away from the preparations and cleaning up required of cooking at home. More casual-dining chains began spreading across the nation like the Cheesecake Factory and Ruby Tuesday, both opening their doors in 1972. For a quick bite, the 1970’s marked Subway’s start into franchising. Much like the fame of the McDonald’s assembly line from the 1950’s, the Subway assembly line was just as important for future restaurants in similar niches.

In finer dining, Le Cirque (New York City) opened its doors in 1974 by Sirio Maccioni and became a landmark in the city. One of the most infamous dishes to come out of Le Cirque was pasta primavera. This entrée soon became one of the most ordered items at restaurants across the country, its popularity spilling over into the 1980’s as well.

Le Cirque, New York City

Photo from insatiable-critic.com

The 1980’s

Innovation ran rampant in 1980’s restaurants. Chefs were taking creative license to create new combinations and dishes, making restaurants trendy and modern. While there were many traditionalists who argued against these new methods, it was certainly an exciting time to be in the restaurant business.

Nouvelle Cuisine

Photo from caraandco.com

Nouvelle cuisine was popular especially in finer dining establishments. Chefs worked hard to create elaborate presentations with their dishes, using the plate as a canvas. Popular New York City restaurants like Odeon and Quilted Giraffe used this style quite fervently throughout the 1980’s. Championed by chef Michel Guerard and food critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau, nouvelle cuisine allowed young chefs to be more artistic and not held to the restrictions of traditional French cooking.

Although this cooking style allowed chefs to be more creative in their practice, it ended abruptly with the stock market crash of 1987. With the largest one-day drop of the Dow Jones in history, customers expected more out of their restaurant helpings than the smaller, artistic portions of the time.

Chef Paul Prudhomme

Photo from investors.com

Another popular trend in the 1980’s was Cajun cooking. While other American chefs looked to other countries to inspire their dishes, chef Paul Prudhomme looked to his Louisiana roots. Prudhomme used classic Louisiana ingredients like blackened beef, crawfish, and shrimp to create exciting menu items such as Chicken and Andouille Gumbo and Cajun Jambalaya. The blackening technique became very popular in the 1980’s, being used in fish and other meat entrees.

The 1990’s

Fusion cooking was on the rise in the 1990’s. A trend, fusion cooking is the combination of different cultural dishes to create something new. Laying the ground work for this new trend, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck served dishes that combined French and Asian influences for an interesting mixture. Items on Puck’s Chinois on Main menu included foie gras with pineapple and catfish with fried ginger.

Wolfgang Puck

Photo from minnpost.com

While these dishes could be highly creative and delicious (like this Thai-inspired pizza), some chefs took it a step too far and created “con-fusion” which were unexpected flavor hybrids that didn’t complement each other well. The “con-fusion” was a result of the chefs trying to jump on the bandwagon and allow their restaurant to have the next big thing, which doesn’t always coincide with a customer’s palate. It is very difficult to specifically label certain “con-fusion” recipes as a failure because taste is extremely subjective. But something tells us that a recipe for spicy Asian green beans with blue cheese isn’t going to be our new favorite food either.

Fusion Cooking

Photo from guyeatsfood.com

Many chefs are not a fan of the term “fusion cooking”, claiming negative connotations from the 1990’s. Even though it is still a popular cooking style in the modern world, the term fusion cooking is not normally used.

The 2000’s

At the turn of the century, America became much more conscientious about their foods. Consumers were more concerned about where their food came from, how it was processed, and what was in it. This kind of curiosity led to many consumer-driven changes that effected food suppliers, distributors, and restaurants.

Super Size Me documentary

Photo from netflixlife.com

One of the most revolutionary food documentaries to ever hit the small screen was Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, which premiered in 2004 to a shocked America. It was common knowledge at this point that fast food was not the ideal meal for a healthy diet, but this documentary took just how unhealthy fast food could be and made it a living nightmare. After this documentary, many fast food chains began to evaluate their menu offerings.

Fresh food

Many consumers demanded more health-conscious options from all of their eateries. Even big-box retailers like Walmart were starting to offer organic options to their customers. So why wouldn’t restaurants as well? More restaurants began creating and marking healthier choices on their menus while others provided more detailed information about where the food came from. This kind of communication with the customer makes them feel more in charge and able to make more educated decisions based on the information that is provided to them.

Because consumers were aimed to obtain healthier foods (for the most part) they frequented businesses like Subway, Jamba Juice, and casual dining establishments like Applebee’s and Olive Garden. Some of the most popular foods of this decade included sushi, bacon, super fruits (blueberries, acai berries), and cupcakes. Many restaurants assimilated these flavors as a part of their core offerings.

The 2010’s

While we are 60% of the way through the 2010’s, there are still prominent restaurant trends that will have sticking power throughout the remainder of this decade.

Chipotle Assembly Line

Photo from qz.com

Restaurants that offer assembly line-like service allow for customers to choose how they want their food prepared are huge right now. The customer is able to tailor their experience from station to station to have their food made exactly the way they want it. This customization ability can be seen in restaurants like Chipotle, Blaze Pizza, and even Starbucks.

Coffee craze

Speaking of Starbucks, the 2010’s are drink-crazed. Whether it is coffeehouses or microbreweries, the interest in mixology has skyrocketed. Many restaurants are not limited to regular or decaf coffee offerings anymore. Similarly, restaurants are also producing their own type of craft beer or wine. There is a certain fascination with making these concoctions because it is all about creativity, and is great for expanding your profit margins.

In urban areas where rent is astronomical and constantly changing, the newest restaurant trend isn’t to become a physical building; it’s to have a food truck. This trend has roots starting in Los Angeles with Kogi BBQ truck and chef Roy Choi. With the help of Twitter and the combination of Korean and Mexican cuisine, the Kogi BBQ truck became a success that inspired restauranteurs to take an alternative route for restaurant ownership.

If you’re looking to create something new in your restaurant, it is always helpful to look to the past for inspiration to create your future. These popular trends from the 1950’s all the way to today have their time and place in history. The restaurant industry has a cyclical nature; trends are bound to find their way around again. While the subject matter of the trends may not be your restaurant’s cup of tea, at the very least, you can get a theme night out of it!

What are some trends (modern or older) your restaurant has tried? Let us know in the comments below!

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10 Ways to Improve Your Restaurant’s Menu to Increase Profitability

Improving Your Menu to Increase Profitability

 

1) Take a hard look at your prices.

Pricing products is one of the most difficult things that any business owner has to do. At it’s simplest, you try to calculate prices that will cover your costs and earn enough of a profit to make it worth staying in business. But, what if you’re leaving money on the table by pricing your items too low? Or, vice versa, what if your menu is priced too high and your losing sales volume? Either scenario could effect profitability in a major way.

Developing an optimal pricing strategy is 1/2 art and 1/2 science – entire books have been written on the subject, so it is too complex to cover in detail here. What it boils down to, however, is matching your prices to the value that your customers perceive in your items. If customers perceive that your $12.99 burger with locally raised, grass fed ground chuck represents an appropriate value, they’ll be happy to pay it – regardless of what it costs to make.

So, how can you gauge your customers’ perceptions of value and price accordingly? Start with your direct competition. Are they pricing the same burger for $8? If so, then, all other things being equal, they’re probably stealing some of your sales. On the other hand, if they’re pricing it at $15, then there may be an opportunity for you to raise your price a little and increase your profitability.

2) Eliminate the clutter

Do you have items on your menu that just don’t sell? Does your menu have so many items on it that you have to use a small, hard to read font in order to fit it all in? If you answered yes to either of these questions, consider ridding your menu of the clutter. Of course you want to keep your classics, customer favorites, and high profit items, but it may just be time to get rid of the rest. Too much on your menu will overwhelm your customers, create a large amount of inventory that you will end up throwing away, and leave you with increased labor costs, all of which reduces profitability.

To combat the clutter, consider recommendations made by O’Dell Restaurant Consulting, a company that offers restaurant consulting services. They recommend taking your sales mix report and eliminating the bottom half of the items; the ones that aren’t selling. Then, take the top half and really evaluate where in your kitchen these items are prepared, using that to organize and balance your menu. For example, have a grilled items section, sautéed selections, fried foods, etc. O’Dell suggests no more than 20 main course dishes, including sandwiches, 4-6 starters, and 2-3 salads. If you have pizza on your menu, it is suggested to make up 2/3 of your main course selections and you should only offer it in a maximum of 3 sizes. You should still accommodate special requests but have a special price for those requests. Cleaning up your menu and getting rid of the clutter will give your customers better food and better service in addition to allowing your restaurant to serve more people.

3) Try a new design.

A fresh perspective and a new look to your menu is a great way to upgrade your brand and improve profitability. Consider investing in the services of a graphic designer or a marketing professional who can use their tricks of the trade to make your menu more attractive and eye catching. Or, look into online companies who offer professional templates, like Vistaprint, to complete this task on your own. Regardless of who does it, design does make a difference. It’s all about the text font and size, the illustrations and images, colors used, and even the shape, thickness, and texture of your menu. It’s also about making sure that your final menu fits in with the concept and atmosphere of your restaurant.

4) Change up your descriptions.

The way you describe your menu items makes a difference. Keep your menu descriptions short but offer descriptive terms that highlight their taste, uniqueness, or ingredients. The tastier it sounds, the more interest there will be in ordering it. If this isn’t your forte, consider hiring a professional copywriter or marketer to assist you with this task. You can find freelance professionals who do this type of work at www.upwork.com.

5) Consider item placement and positioning.

When organizing your menu, here are a few fun facts that may be helpful to increase sales…According to SoftCafe, a developer of menu software for restaurants, customers often remember and order the first two items and the last two items in each category on your menu. On a tri-panel menu, people look at the center panel first and move their attention counter clockwise. Place your highest margin items in these areas, and you could see a substantial increase in profitability.

6) Add fresh into the mix.

Food trends have moved into organic, fresh, and healthier options. Offering “fresh” items on your menu not only sounds attractive to your customers, but can also be a selling point for your restaurant. Supporting the local economy and having healthier options for your customers is good for the environment, good for the local economy, and can make you stand out from other restaurants. In addition, customers are willing to pay a little more for ingredients that are fresh, local, and healthy with an even better taste.

7) Offer specials.

Customers will come to your restaurant not only looking for deals, but also for menu items that they can’t get anywhere else. Consider a specials menu or insert with your regular menu that you change out every so often to push high margin items. A great example of a company that utilizes this strategy is Red Lobster, which has different, short lived, specials like Shrimp Fest, Crab Fest, and Lobster Fest at various times of year.

Play up seasonal offerings during the holidays or offer certain items related to commercialized events like the Super Bowl or the premier of a popular television show in your area. Specials keep your menu interesting and they can even allow you to use up inventory that might otherwise go to waste.

8) Don’t forget photos.

When possible, try to include photos that offer your customers a visual presentation of your food. Some people are visual decision makers; they will see an item and order it because the picture intrigued them. Consider highlighting your popular menu items, a new or featured item, or even something that is a long time classic. With these photos, be sure the images are sharp ones with a professional look. But, don’t go overboard. Too many images can be overwhelming and can look chaotic. Plus, it’s okay to have white space; it gives your customer’s eyes a chance to rest. Applebee’s does a great job of using photos on their menu to entice their customers.

9) Make your menu easily accessible.

In this day and age, people want information in an instant and make their decisions based on the information available to them. Included in this is your restaurant’s menu. Your goal is to get that information to your customers as soon as possible. Yes, you can make sure that your menu is on the table when each customer is seated or that the hostess hands each patron a copy of it when they first sit down. You can even offer a menu on the wall in the waiting area for your customers to read. But, one of the best ways to offer your menu even before any customer walks in is online through a mobile friendly website, app, or on any of the social media sites. When customers can access your menu from anywhere, it may just be the deciding factor that pulls their cars into your parking lot. And when paired with the recommendations above, you’ll be sure to see the profits of your efforts.

10) Consider your customer.

Who is your customer and what would appeal to them? When your restaurant menu appeals to each customer, especially the news ones, they’ll surely return for more. For example, if your business caters to families, offer a separate kids menu. If your restaurant is located in a college town, offer pricing that appeals to the average college student. Or, if you have an upscale restaurant, offer a menu that caters to your customer in both variety on your menu and in design.

Designing Your Restaurant Menu for Profitability

Menu engineering is about designing your restaurant’s menu to ensure your most profitable menu items are seen first and also displayed in a way that convinces your guest to choose one item (the profitable one) over another (the not-as-profitable one) while still offering enough variety to please many palettes. The first step is knowing which meals make you the most money!  These aren’t always your highest-priced items, but the ones that are the most profitable to your bottom line. Once you know which items you want to demand the attention of your restaurant guests, then you’re ready to start laying your menu out.  There is a lot of information out there on menu engineering, including software that you can purchase to create a highly profitable menu design.  But who wants to spend extra money or take the time to dive into all the theories in order to study the science behind how people read menus? To save you time and money, I’ve put together an easy-to-follow list of general guidelines that will help you create an attractive menu, which will also serve as an effective sales tool. I’ve combed through many articles, listened to a few speakers on the topic, read the studies, reviewed the statistics, and trusted my expertise as a marketer (and as an avid eater-outer) to serve you up the best advice out there on menu design. (Please note, these tips are for printed menus, not digital or iPad menus.)

Restaurant menu engineering

1. Choose a one-page, bi-fold, tri-fold, or book-style menu.  This depends on how many dishes you offer, but typically, less pages is better.  If you can shrink your menu to a one-pager without sacrificing readability (such as font size), go for it.  If you can separate your breakfast menu from your lunch from your dinner, try it.  If you can offer a wine, spirits, and beer list separately, why not?  Use inserts to promote profitable seasonal specials.

2. In general, people will start by looking at the top right of any given page or spread.  For tri-folds, they start at the top center of the middle panel and make their way counter-clockwise around the menu (so the top right page is the last spot they get to).  The lower right hand quadrant, back page, or last page are going to be the last places their eyes fall.  Knowing this, you can put the most profitable items where their eyes go first and bury the least profitable items in the areas of the page where they might not even get to before they decide what they want to eat.

3. Place your top three most profitable items into a box on the page.  Boxes (or circles) draw the attention to that item. The boxes should be separated and balanced on the menu. Shading or color will also draw attention. Be careful not to pick more than three items, though, because you don’t want to overload your customers with too many highlighted selections, because you may force them to avoid them all.

4. There is a debate about using graphics and photographs on a menu.  For fine dining, it’s not advised, since it lowers the perception of your restaurant.  For casual or fine dining, if you are going to use a graphic or a photograph on the menu, make it count.  Only show photos of your most profitable items; show the real photograph but make sure it looks appetizing! Don’t oversell your items via exaggerated artwork, though. It’s a fine line!  Too many photos or graphics can be distracting, so choose wisely which items you want to highlight with an image.

5. Menu descriptions matter.  Write a sentence or two about each item, not only detailing what’s in the meal/how it’s made, but also how it is going to taste.  Use flattering adjectives to entice the reader; for example, explain if the item is sweet, smokey, savory, spicy, smothered, or scrumptious.  If you need to hire a food critic or journalist to help you write the menu, it might behoove you.  Really think about the processes, too; ‘fried zucchini’ is nice, but isn’t ‘locally grown fresh zucchini, which is hand-battered and fried to a golden brown’ better? Keep in mind your customer might be willing to spend more for a ‘bed of fresh greens including organic arugula, topped with layers of locally grown healthy veggies, homemade crunchy croutons, and sprinkled with shredded cheese’ than for a ‘house salad’ – even if they are the same thing! The more appealing the description you use to whet your customer’s appetite, the more irresistible your culinary works of art become! (Note, descriptive categories are also important. If you make the most money on your sandwich selection, instead of the boring ‘sandwiches’ title, call that section ‘the best thing between sliced bread’ and see if your sandwich orders increase.)

6. Drop the dollar sign ($). Don’t draw attention to the price; you want customers to choose their meal based on quality not cost.  Keep the price tucked in next to the item description, not in a column off to the side.  It’s too easy to scan the row of prices and choose the least pricey items.  I still recommend using numerals (16) as opposed to spelling it out (sixteen), although there is supporting evidence to use both. I just think it makes it clearer and less confusing.

7. Be easy to understand. Use a standard font, nothing too fancy like a script.  Make it an average size – don’t go below a 9 point.  If your menu is easy to read, your guests will actually read it!  The use of white space can also be effective in making your menu look less cluttered and less overwhelming to read.

8. Minimize the selections per category to five or fewer.  If you have a pasta selection on your menu, only offer five or less. Sandwiches? Five or less. Seafood? Five or less!  We humans are really bad decision makers, and too many options leave us feeling confused. So confused, in fact, that we give up thinking altogether and just pick the least expensive item.  If you are a specialized restaurant, such as a burger joint with 25 unique burger creations, this might be trickier for you.  In that case, make sure you do not exceed five total categories (e.g., burgers, beverages, sides, and sweets) and keep the other categories very minimal.  Or, you could try breaking down your burgers into different categories (e.g., classic, spicy, smokey, tropical, and beef-less).  Following this rule of thumb will actually help you cut the least profitable items from your menu, which is a good business practice anyway.

9. In any category (or menu list), place the most profitable items in the first and last two spots.  Your guests will remember those the best.  If you have five sandwich options, your numbers 1, 4, and 5 should be the most profitable sandwiches on your menu. Then you can sandwich (get it?!) the least profitable items as numbers 2 and 3 in the list. Going one step further, if you put a box around number 4, that will be your top-seller.

10. Trickery can be mastered. By adding in a more expensive option, it will make your lower priced, more profitable item feel like a wise decision. Customers will instinctively comparatively shop your menu, so throwing in some items that you want to use as decoys can have great results. For example, if you have a classic cheeseburger and a bacon jalapeno burger on your menu now (with hopes of selling more of the bacon jalapeno variety for profitability), but the price of the cheeseburger is stealing all the orders, you can add an overpriced premium steak burger for much more to convince your customers that the bacon jalapeno one is actually a good deal.  If they can spend just $18 for the bacon jalapeno burger rather than $29 for the premium one, they’ll feel like their choice is rational.  However, when only compared with the $10 cheeseburger, it might be hard for them to make the justification in their mind that the bacon jalapeno burger is a good value.

For more on the psychology of menu design, check out this video of Gregg Rapp on the Today Show.

8 Restaurant Trends for 2012

A few days ago, we watched the ball drop.  Toasts were shared.  Resolutions were set into place.  And 2012 is now officially upon us.  Is your restaurant ready for what the new year will bring?  I’ve put together a list of restaurant trends for 2012 that I hope will get you thinking and help you reach all your new year hopes and dreams.

1. When it comes to design, less is more. We are just a bunch of minimalists.  Don’t let the few pat racks in the world that they make TV shows about influence the way you design your restaurant.  If you have shelves of dusty knick-knacks, it’s time to reinvent your image.  Anything you put into your restaurant design needs to celebrate your theme and brand; if it doesn’t, it should go.  Be picky when you choose your color scheme, artwork, lighting, and overall look of your restaurant.  If you are sports bar, then sports memorabilia is OK.  But if you are a modern, American family dining establishment, retro Hummels on a shelf probably aren’t doing anything for you.  Today’s consumers want to see shiny, germ-free, clean, and clutter-free surfaces.  The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of money or a complete overhaul to accomplish this design task.  Not sure what to do with empty shelves?  Why not turn them into functional space by storing wine bottles, dessert glasses, or pretty pieces of fruit or veggies?
–>We also recommend some contemporary tables, chairs, or barstools!  In keeping with the less is more idea, how about an aluminum table and base set, our simple cross back metal restaurant chair, and/or the new Z stainless steel bar stool.

2. Nutrition is important. While not everyone who goes out to eat cares about the number of calories they are over-indulging in, the fact remains – some people do care.  And that number is growing.  Balance your menu with the “I’ve been good all week, so I deserve to stuff my face” items with the “I want to keep my jeans buttoned on the ride home” items.  Make it easy for smart eaters to find your healthy menu items, and be sure to make all the label-readers happy by listing out nutrition/caloric information by those menu items.  It’s good practice to be transparent, and your health-conscience consumers will feel at ease knowing exactly what they are putting in their mouths.  A growing trend is also creating more healthy side options for children.  Don’t just give them chips or fries; offer their choice of a salad, vegetable, or fruit.  Don’t forget to list the kind of milk you serve (is it skim or whole?), and be sure to choose juices with low sugar content.  If your kids’ menu is filled with fried finger foods, consider adding some healthier options or creating smaller portions of your regular, adult menu items, like many restaurants do for senior citizens. As long as you don’t expect the children dining at your restaurant to eat liver and onions, you should be able to make both child and parent happy by finding that intersection of nutritious and delicious.

3. Minimize your desserts.  Think about the dessert shooters at Applebee’s or the collection of mini desserts at PF Chang’s.  Everyone loves a burst of sweetness at the end of the meal, but if you’ve already served them an appetizer, salad, and main course, they are probably close to skipping dessert.  If you can offer them a small but satisfying treat, you are more likely to make that up-sale, and they are less likely to feel guilty about ordering dessert.  It might not be so much about nutrition for your “I’m so full, I don’t know if I can walk to the car” guests, but creating a few mini-sized desserts on your menu will pay off for you in the long run.

4. Buy local. When possible, buy local produce, fresh ingredients, and otherwise support local business by using local vendors for your purchases.  Then, don’t forget to tell your customers that the tomato on their sandwich was grown at Farmer Bob’s down the street, that the buffalo-turned-bison-burger was raised on the outskirts of town, and that you support the local fishing industry.  Consumers love to feel good about frequenting a business that cares about the same things (and people) that they do.  So if you are supporting other local commerce, they feel as if everyone is doing their part to boost the local economy and help their neighbors out.  You many consider adding a local or regional section to your menu, as well, and feature foods that are staples in your neck of the woods.  For example, where I come from, it’s not uncommon to see ox roast, pepperoni balls, Lake Erie perch, or Pittsburgh-style slaw sandwiches on a restaurant’s menu.

5. But when it comes to menu, don’t be afraid to go global. While consumers, who are still shell-shocked from the recession, are not going to want to take a lot of risks in 2012, offering some exotic-but-not-too-exotic menu choices to show off your global culinary expertise will help you compete with your fellow restauranteurs.  But don’t go too daring.  Just add a little Asian or Indian influence in your cooking, or try some borderline unique ingredients, such as coconut, pistachio, or mango.

6. Cook, don’t just heat. Chain restaurants, especially, are notorious for ‘heating’, ‘unfreezing’, and ‘scooping’ their pre-packaged meals (sent from a faraway headquarters) onto their guests’ plates.  Adding just a few homemade items, made-to-order menu choices, or house favorites can go a long way with meeting consumer expectations.  As cooks and foodies alike get more savvy, bringing more of the prep and cooking in-house will prove to be a wise choice this coming year and into the future. Empowering your kitchen staff and training them to make some of your signature dishes can prove to be a successful HR strategy, too.

7. Promote sustainability. Have you gone green?  Do you use recycled paper for your menus?  Can you grow your own herbs for cooking at your establishment?  Are your light bulbs and appliances all energy-saving products?   This is a trend that we will continue to see grow in 2012, so being able to not only market your restaurant as such but to reap the economic advantages of being sustainable will be beneficial for your own business’s growth and prospering.
–>Looking for some furniture that shows off your sustainable values?  I recommend our poly lumber tables, made 100% of recycled materials, which are good for indoor or outdoor use!

8. Listen to your customers more/better. In the age of social media, customer reviews, online surveys, and let’s face it – a lot of chatter about where people go, how they spend their money, and what they expect, it’s crucial that every business owner or marketer listen and respond in the form of improvement and action.  You may even want to jump on the bandwagon of giving discounts to customers who complete surveys, start your own restaurant Facebook page, offer a social deal of the day, or start tweeting your restaurant news and events.  Whether you want to join the online conversation or not, you should at least listen in when people are talking about you.  Be prepared; you may hear some complaints.  Don’t let that discourage you, anger you, or turn you away from those conversations.  Instead, use your customers’ advice to create a better product, atmosphere, and well-liked restaurant.  More than ever, it’s easy to collect customer feedback, so take advantage of those channels and listen closely!  Savvy marketers, like mega pizza makers at Domino’s, can take hard-heard truths and turn them around into positive marketing…and better pizza!

Facing 2012 head on by making a few adjustments to keep up with these restaurant trends is a great new year’s resolution for any restaurant, whether you are a casual family diner, formal fine dining restaurant, or small cafe.

Your friends at East Coast Chair & Barstool wish you a very happy new year!