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The TURF algorithm evaluates all the possible menu alternatives and combinations by considering consumers’ answers to multiple-choice questions.

MenuWise: How to use statistics to your restaurant’s advantage

This tool traditionally used by ad agencies can provide menu benefits to chains

TURF (an acronym for Total Unduplicated Reach and Frequency) is a notable statistical research instrument developed in the 1950s as a tool for ad agencies evaluating different media options. Today TURF can be used to deliver significant and multiple benefits to restaurant chains.

How does TURF work?

The TURF algorithm evaluates all the possible menu alternatives and combinations by considering consumers’ answers to multiple-choice questions. Through tradeoff decisions, it aims to find the optimal combination of menu items that will appeal to the greatest percentage of customers and drive the highest overall sales.

In simple terms, TURF provides two types of information:

  • The shortest list of menu items needed to satisfy the majority of consumers
  • The average number of menu items on that list that customers would like to order

Within the context of these lists, TURF demonstrates the potential changes to consumer satisfaction by making substitutions to the optimum solutions. TURF can show what other menu items might be substituted with minimal downside to customer satisfaction.  And, to the extent that management has any new or former menu items under consideration for the future, TURF will identify the relative opportunity for those items and the items that could/should be replaced.

For some users, TURF provides a road map of risks and rewards — demonstrating the potential number of customers lost if a particular item was discontinued. And it can indicate the potential for increasing repeat visits if a specific item was introduced.

Using TURF for menu simplification

Over time, many restaurants increase their list of menu items but fail to remove existing menu items. Menu communications (menuboards, hand-held menus, kiosks, web, and digital) become cluttered and increasingly difficult for customers to navigate. In addition, operations, inventory, and staffing becomes increasingly complicated.  TURF analysis can help by identifying the shortest list of menu items needed to satisfy the majority of customers. And it can reveal the average number of items each customer would find on that list they would like to order. TURF’s mathematical analysis eliminates a risky “seat-of-your-pants” approach for identifying which menu items can be eliminated without negatively impacting sales and customer loyalty. 

For example, a fast-casual restaurant had 37 core items on its menu. A TURF analysis revealed that the menu could be reduced to 25 menu items (a 33% reduction) and still give 91% of customers their first or second choice of menu items.  Moreover, those guests would have reasons to return — on average, they would find 2.2 of their preferred choices on the menu.

Ensuring customer satisfaction: TURF also protects potential adverse changes to customer satisfaction by making substitutions to the optimum solutions.  For example, TURF can show what other menu items could be substituted with minimal downside to customer satisfaction.

Optimizing your menu by items or by categories:  A TURF analysis can be run for the entire menu in aggregate or for individual menu categories — e.g., separately identifying the best salad choices, the best entrees, the best list of soups, the best desserts, etc.

The collective benefits of TURF

  • Streamlining your menu through the retirement of specific products that have little interest to customers
  • Generating incremental reach by identifying and ranking menu items, TURF will determine the percentage of customers that can be motivated to purchase a specific combination of menu items
  • Increasing revenue and profits by appropriately adding questions about price/value. The analysis can then provide direction for fine-tuning pricing by identifying revenue driver menu items (items that are price elastic and can withstand price increases) 
  • Driving customer loyalty by determining the items with the greatest customer affinity
  • Increasing customer throughput by making it easier and faster for customers to order (through the reduction and simplification of menu items)
  • Reducing operational complexity due to a streamlined menu
  • Reducing service time through the elimination of labor-intensive menu items
  • Expanding menu offerings by using TURF to assess new product ideas to determine those ideas resulting in the most substantial customer base
  • Improving menu communications by utilizing the data to optimize menu layout and design, and the merchandising of menu categories and items

In short, TURF is a proven “statistical” approach for making objective decisions as you set out to optimize your restaurant’s menu and menu communications.

Note that TURF is a tool.  It does not replace common sense. It identifies the core items that must be offered to satisfy the most significant percentage of customers. But it still leaves room for creative and opportunistic decision-making — for example, adding a unique, differentiating menu item to become the only restaurant offering such an item.


Howland Blackiston is co-principal of King-Casey.  King-Casey has been helping restaurant brands grow their businesses and dramatically improve the customer experience for over half a century. King-Casey’s solutions are grounded in insights from hard data and analytics relative to consumer behavior. King-Casey provides a complete range of menu optimization services, including assessment, research, reengineering, strategy, and communications.

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