The menu is the Bible to your restaurant. Like the Holy Book, it spells out what you offer, and how it can be gotten (pricing). This special guide book welcomes patrons and guests to your restaurant. It also introduces your food offerings and reinforces your brand concept in their minds.
To put it simply, the menu is one of the most important aspects of your food business. This simple looking booklet impacts your profits and business success more than you may imagine. Thus, you want to be careful to get it right, and avoid any destructive food menu mistakes.
The ideal menu follows a carefully crafted menu strategy. This menu strategy aims to both attract customers and shoot revenues sky-high. Unfortunately, many new restaurant owners fall into one of these easy-to-make menu mistakes that lead to the demise of their new venture.
In this article, we identify 3 of these critical menu mistakes, and how you can avoid them. Ready? Let’s dive right in!
Mistake #1: Creating Products for Yourself
Many food entrepreneurs make the mistake of creating a menu for themselves. This is especially common amongst first-time owners who build a menu consisting of food they love. While this isn’t necessarily wrong, it often means that the menu neglects the needs of your customers.
Always keep in mind that the life of an entrepreneur is about solving problems. What you create must solve a problem for the customer, or it’ll never leave your shelves.
To clarify, there can’t be success without demand. And to enjoy this demand, you must be strategic with your menu.
Of course, you could very well create a menu out of your own tastes, and still find success. This was the case with a power-lifting friend of mine who craved a healthy snack to go with his workout sessions.
To tackle this problem, his girlfriend set about creating healthy desserts for him. Having enjoyed his dessert, he took pictures and shared them on Instagram.
A ton of messages from fellow fitness enthusiasts looking to get the dessert followed. What was an ordinary meal to help himself soon became a brilliant business idea. Seeing the demand for the product drove them to start their own healthy dessert brand. In their first year of business, they generated 6-figure profits.
Now, did you notice what led to their success? Although the dessert was originally created for personal use, it satisfied the needs of a larger demographic. The demand for the product already existed. This made it an easy market to enter and find success.
So, should you choose to build a menu out of items you love and enjoy, be certain to confirm that demand exists for your menu. If you and your family alone love this item, you’re unlikely to find success selling your menu.
Mistake #2: Not Understanding Your Customer Demographic
In an age of information explosion and many competing brands, everything you say matters. The reason is simple. There are thousands of brands competing for your target customer’s attention. So, why should they listen to you instead?
As a customer yourself, you’ve surely noted that you’ve got more power now than ever before. You no longer have to patronize a brand because you lack options. You can select whichever brand appeals to you the most, and make it your choice brand.
This shift in power places more responsibility on brand owners in need of patronage. Customers care a lot more about your story than they ever have. Thus, to grab your customer’s attention, you should be able to tell a story that appeals to them.
Why have you created your product? What’s the overarching principle of your brand? What are your brand values?
To successfully tell a story that draws in your target audience, you need to understand who that audience is.
What interests them? What makes them passionate and excited? What are their underlying frustrations and how does your product ease these frustrations? Where do they like to shop? What values do they hold dear?
It’s only after you understand your customers pain points and desires that you can create a brand that fully meets their needs. Without understanding who your target customer is, your menu will be a mistake-in-waiting.
Not sure how to do proper target market research?
Without knowing who your customers are, you could be very well be selling them something they don’t want! And that can be devastating to your food business.
Join my free masterclass where I show you how to leverage Instagram to learn about your target audience and build a popular food business.
Mistake #3: Creating a Huge Menu
I know, I know… there’s a lot of good stuff you can whip up in the kitchen which you’d love to share with the world. You’re finally going to have your own public kitchen, and you can’t wait for everyone to have a taste of all your kitchen goodness…
But you must be careful.
Creating your first food business is an undeniably exciting prospect. You want to bake these really good cookies, and your friends go on about how you could also add croissants. Brilliant idea, you think!
Someone else soon suggests switching up the flavors. Another suggests adding macaroons. Soon, your menu boasts 12 different options, from rainbow-colored cookies to chocolate croissants.
Now, you should note that having extra options on your menu isn’t bad in itself. It allows you catch some customers whose desires aren’t satisfied by your most popular items. Done right, it’s a blessing. When the menu items become too much, though, Pareto’s Law sets in.
This law states that “80% of consequences come from 20% of causes.” For your business, this implies that 20% of your menu items are going to generate over 80% of your sales. So, if you have 10 items on sale, 2 of them will account for the bulk of your revenue.
As a business looking to optimize for profit, focus your efforts on those two items. Why create muffins, croissants, and cookies when the bulk of your customers are only interested in your macaroons?
Not only does focusing on macaroons improve your overall operations, it saves you a ton of expenses. Rather than spend money purchasing ingredients for cookies you’ll never sell, you save. With ingredient costs reduced, your profits are sure to go up.
What is more? Simplifying your menu to focus on a few items helps your brand. It makes your brand more identifiable. When people think of your brand, a clear image comes to mind.
Going back to our last example, customers would remember you as the best macarons’ seller. This clarity makes it easy for them to “preach” your brand to others. And, nothing sells better than word-of-mouth marketing.
So, start with a few menu items. Zoom into your “hero item” – the item people love to buy from you the most. Get feedback from customers and improve this item until you perfect it. Only when this is achieved, should you begin building complementary items around that hero item.
Bonus Mistake: Not Looking into the Numbers
Although this mistake doesn’t directly relate to the menu, it’s one that blights a lot of food business owners – myself included.
To understand how damaging it could be, picture the scene:
You’ve started your cookie business and are selling dozens at a time each month. Money is coming in and you’re happy. Six months and over a thousand sold cookies later, you look at your account balance and find only a few hundred dollars. Perhaps you get creative and increase sales, but the problem persists.
This common scenario plagues a lot of business owners. You work for months and years only to realize that your business isn’t making any money. You can’t track where all the money goes, nor can you figure out why you’re bleeding.
Maybe you haven’t spent anything improving the business yet. Still, you’re barely breaking even.
In tracking the cause of such scenarios, I’ve noticed that most business owners have a very vague idea of their revenue and expenses. They lose track of rising costs, and also fail to program profits into their operations.
The end result is a business that is bleeding. Looking good on the outside, but standing one minor crisis away from bankruptcy.
This was the case of Makayla, a student of mine. Sales in her donut shop started booming the moment she opened her doors to customers. She had hundreds of sales each day. Yet, her bank account balance was always close to the balance she started the business with.
To avoid finding yourself in this situation, you must fine-tune your business for success. This means that you consciously program your profits into your business. And for any of this to happen, you must understand your numbers.
Understanding your numbers allows you transform your kitchen from a personal hobby into a thriving food business. Without understanding your numbers and properly tracking your finances, you run the risk of running a static business that never grows into something more.
A winning menu is a result of a well-crafted menu strategy that analyses customers’ needs, understands their demands, and balances these against food costs. Avoid jumping into your menu based off of information from friends and family alone.
Be sure to conduct proper market research to confirm that your menu will be welcomed in the market. And, always look for ways to further fine tune your menu towards your goals.
If you need help conducting proper market research to help you craft a menu that appeals to your target customers, or you need help with leveraging social media to market your new business, you’d be sure to enjoy this informative masterclass.