This edition of MRM's "Ask the Expert” features advice from Buyers Edge Platform on the topic of menu engineering.
Please send questions to Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine Executive Editor Barbara Castiglia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the question a lot of people are asking right now, especially as we collectively navigate the consistent changes to our business models, supply chains and personal lives. While it may seem that everything is in chaos, there are ways we can maintain control of what happens to our operations.
Here are a few general recommendations:
Because operational shifts for businesses are happening at such a quick pace, stay nimble in terms of your operational structure. Most operators, by now, should have a technology system — and plan — in place for managing curbside pickup/takeout orders, and if you don’t, take some time to develop a plan.
Need to make menu changes? The best results right now can be discovered through the alteration of menus based on what consumers need now, and on what sells best. In many cases, operators have pared down their menus in order to cut back on costs while still serving their guest favorites. By staying nimble and flexible, operators can ease some of the pressure while sorting through long-term challenges and opportunities.
Between states reopening and closing again, or limiting capacity even more, the best thing operators can do is stay armed with information. This doesn’t mean 24-hour news watching. Rather, it means staying aware of what’s happening within the industry, within each state your business operates and within individual communities.
Gain knowledge in terms of how sanitation measures moving forward will impact your business, understand current pandemic curves both locally and nationally, and then make plans accordingly. By staying alert and vigilant, you can avoid a lot of problems before they appear, or at the least, have a plan for when they do.
Alter Course if You Need To
With patio season coming to an end and indoor seating capacity compromised, it’s never too early to have a Plan B (or C or D, at this point). That could mean the creation of meal kits for takeout orders, or the creation of family-style meals for the school and work-week or specialized items for holidays. Take a chance and consider launching a delivery-only virtual concept. Keep in mind to keep the menu simple.
Research virtual concepts and use some of your existing kitchen space to create a new, unique brand, and leverage your marketing platforms to help it launch. The next few months will continue to push us beyond the norm so push your brand menu, and potential virtual concept, too.
Work on Your Supply Chain
All over the US, both restaurants and retailers are experiencing supply chain shortages. So, use this time wisely. Reach out to your distributors to take inventory in terms of thinking through what might be available and when. This will allow you to make menu alterations if something will be in short supply later on down the line.
Alternatively, it also could help in terms of placing pre-order for items that you know will be in high-demand throughout the coming months. This also would be a great time to see where you might be able to reduce certain costs on dry goods or paper products. And if you’re selling produce and other items for ‘grocery,’ do a cost analysis to determine if you still need to offer the service or discontinue it.
Keep People Working
Whether you add an in-house delivery service or need people to manage two-way text communication, having staff in place to fill in the gaps will make a huge difference. For starters, it will give everyone an enhanced sense of purpose and bring back cherished staff. It also will put people in important positions as curbside/takeout/delivery continue to dominate within operations. And with some in-store and patio dining capacity, the ability to keep people working could be a huge benefit.