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Quantity on restaurant menus does not trump quality. The focus of the great restaurants is always doing something extremely well and making sure that everyone knows how great you are. Trying to please every possible palate is never a good business model. An excessive number of menu choices for guests will typically lead to a loss of focus on the part of the restaurant and its employees.

Do less, and do it extremely well is the most intelligent approach towards running any business. In particular, the great restaurants have an identity of quality that is synonymous with their product. This product is something that they are known for, something that sets them apart from the pack of competitors, a differentiation. If you want to sell pizza, make sure that it is the absolute best pizza to be found anywhere. Make it the type of pizza that people will drive 20 miles to buy. If you what to be known for roast chicken or bar-b-que baby back ribs, then find the finest chickens, rub salt and herbs under the skin, roast them on racks so that the fat from the bird naturally bastes the meat, ensure that the skin is crisp and the bird is removed from the oven while it is still moist. Break the chicken into easy to handle pieces and remove the breast from the carcass. Make incredible chicken, all of the time, every time. If you bar-b-que ribs, then develop a killer dry rub, slow bake them in a pit with sufficient smoke and real wood essence, bake them for 10-12 hours, or more until the bark is fully caramelized, chewy and full of deep flavors. Make sure that the meat falls from the bone and the mopping sauce is rich and unique to your restaurant. Make incredible ribs, all of the time, every time.

A menu with 20 plus entrees, a dozen appetizers and sides and a dessert list that requires more than one page may seem impressive, but it is really a sign of impending doom for the restaurant. It is the old Greek Diner menu that tried to be all things to all people, 24 hours a day. So you want lasagna for breakfast? Sure thing. How about Eggs Benedict at 8 p.m.? Absolutely! Maybe you would like Pork Lomein with a side of whipped potatoes? We are at your service. There are so many things wrong with this type of formula. Allow me to point out a few:

[] Too many choices are overwhelming for guests, making the decision process very difficult

[] Chefs, cooks, and restaurants cannot be great at all things. Simply because you prepare excellent variations of classic French cuisine does not prepare you to have the same understanding of Spanish tapas or Japanese sushi. Something, maybe everything, will suffer.

[] Big menus inevitably lead to the need for convenience foods for practical reasons. Is this the signature you want for a restaurant?

[] Big menus create problems for chefs as they seek the most effective system for purchasing and managing vendors.

[] Big menus create a need for more refrigeration, larger freezers, expansive dry good storage, more diverse equipment, and a significant investment of time for purchasing and inventory control.

[] Line cooks HATE large menus that require encyclopedic memories during preparation, more mise en place than is possible to manage, stacks of containers labeled with product descriptions and expiration dates, and the ability to manage far too many simultaneous preparations to ensure that quality is maintained.

[] Big menus ALWAYS lead to more waste and spoilage.

[] Big menus ALWAYS lead to shortages and 86’d items that the service staff must explain to the guest.

[] Controlling costs when big menus are in place is an impossible dream.

I would go so far as to say that restaurants with menus offering 30 or more items must be prepared to fail. Failure will rear up its ugly head in the form of poor financial performance, inconsistent quality, slow service, dis-satisfied guests, angry cooks and/or loads of employee turnover.

There are many examples of great companies with a minimalistic approach, a focus on quality and consistency, and a reputation for excellence that has put them in a position of envy from their proponents and competitors. Apple computer is the most valued brand in the world and is financially robust. Their product line is fairly limited, but broad enough to appeal to a diverse audience. Their focus on quality is the differentiated product that keeps them at the top of the game. Starbucks, although there are thousands of possible variables, focuses on coffee and tea, and as such, dominates that market.

Certainly, there are examples of companies, whether in the business of electronics, clothing, automobiles, or restaurant food, that have very broad product offerings and are successful, but the model is always cumbersome and difficult to manage. The most important component of success is to develop a CONCEPT that defines the business and a complementary MENU that brings that concept to light.

Chipotle has a concept that, at its root is defined as: “Food with Integrity.” Although the current menu reflects strong Southwestern and Mexican influences, the CONCEPT would allow them to move in different directions in the future. The menu, in its limited fashion (compared to other quick service operators), is really a voice for the concept, and as such, does not need to focus on quantity or breadth of menu. Starbucks, in a similar fashion, has developed a concept around a succinct mission statement that is the real product. Coffee happens to be the vehicle they use, and as such, needs to fit in the frame of the mission: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

Far too many restaurants look to the menu as the salvation of the business. In an effort to attract customers, operators and chefs continue to broaden a menu to be the “please everyone” savior, while they fail to invest the time in defining the CONCEPT that includes:

“Location, a marketing plan, a service scheme, design, atmosphere, price point, a defined position in relationship to the competition, and almost as important as the food itself, a long-term strategy.”

The Anatomy of Restaurant Failure


Building a menu for a restaurant is a process that stems from an understanding of what the restaurant wants to be, how it hopes to be perceived, what talent lies within the walls of the business, how it can strive for absolute excellence, and knowing what stakes in the ground will differentiate the business from everyone else in this highly competitive market. Quantity never trumps quality. The menu is your vehicle for demonstrating the commitment that your restaurant has to the CONCEPT that must be the operations signature.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC


Restaurant Consulting and Training

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