Restaurant chains across segments are simplifying their menus — a move that executives and observers say should help them compete in an increasingly complex field.
“Simplicity is the key to success in the foodservice industry,” said Gary Stibel, founder and chief executive of The New England Consulting Group, based in Westport, Conn. “Doing a few things extraordinarily well” — that is, efficiently and at a reasonable price while still making a profit — is at the heart of running a good restaurant, he said.
Chains including quick-service Burger King, fast-casual Panera Bread and casual-dining BJ’s noted during recent earnings calls that they would streamline future menu rollouts for the sake of speed and operational simplicity, and to cut costs.
Burger King Worldwide Inc., which reported mixed same-store sales results in the third quarter, said it would continue its strategy of rolling out “fewer, more impactful products,” such as the lower-calorie Satisfries it launched during the quarter. The goal of doing so would be to increase profitability for franchisees, noted executives.
“This allows for a reduction in operations complexity and deeper, extended marketing support for each launch, which we believe will help drive franchise profitability,” said Bryson Thornton, the 13,000-unit chain’s director of global communications and culture.
In the case of Panera Bread Co., decreasing operational burdens was the main reason for trimming the menu. Chief executive Ron Shaich said the 1,534-unit chain would streamline its menu after Thanksgiving to reduce the “degree of difficulty of operating a high-volume Panera café.” The chain reported a tepid 1.3-percent increase in same-store sales during the third quarter.
Shaich said in a conference call discussing the chain’s earnings that about 10 percent of its restaurants were butting up against capacity constraints during peak hours. Simplifying the menu to increase throughput would be essential to serving more customers and improve the guest experience during those hours, he said.
He did not provide further details about which menu items would be removed.
Stibel said that while it’s important for a restaurant to stay on top of trends and offer customers what they want, it’s also important to say “no,” as each new item is another straw on the back of operators. “That straw gets very heavy. And God forbid it rains one night,” he said.
Full-service chains pare back menus
Casual-dining chains have also recognized the importance of simplifying their menus.
Executives at 130-unit BJ’s Restaurants Inc., which reported a 2.2-percent drop in same-store sales in the third quarter, said the restaurant’s fall menu would have 24 fewer items.
Similar to Shaich’s comments, BJ’s chief executive Greg Trojan said in a call with analysts, “We need to be able to serve more guests more quickly and add an even better quality level than we are today.”
He said the chain would work on introducing more bold-flavored, smaller-portioned items priced at less than $10, and would also make some operational adjustments. For example, he said onions would be cut fewer times to reduce kitchen preparation times, and the chain would also return to serving deep-dish pizza in the pan, rather then moving it to a plate, to speed up service time.
Phil Costner, president of Mimi’s Café, a 143-unit casual-dining chain in the midst of a turnaround, said simpler menus allow for greater speed, improved margins and reduced cost.
Although he said his current efforts are focused more on re-establishing brand identity than streamlining the menu, the industry veteran, who has worked in culinary operations at LSG Sky Chefs, Universal Studios Hollywood, T.G.I. Friday’s and La Madeleine, said, “Generally speaking, fewer items on the menu means fewer products in the storeroom or in the refrigerator. Less on the shelves usually means fewer dollars tied up in inventory.
The money saved can be used to fund training, expansion and remodeling, he noted.
Costner added that it’s important for restaurant brands to know who they are and who they are not. “The key driver of the menu development strategy at Mimi’s is to distinguish ourselves from others by offering products that others can’t or won’t, which in turn provides the consumer a bonafide reason to include Mimi’s in their dining-out decision set.”
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
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