Should you limit your menu?

As a restaurateur, you want to offer your clientele exactly what they want. It’s an understandable desire to want to be your customers’ go-to dining experience, so you are faced with a basic question: “Should I limit my menu?”

In a word…YES.

Limiting your menu may seem like you are limiting your customers, but the truth is that you are helping them make up their minds. You’d think that more choices would make people happy, but more choices actually create anxiety in the decision maker. When customers see columns of entrees, they are more likely to seek out something familiar (chicken fingers, anyone?) rather than trying something new, so there’s really no point in offering all those choices anyway.

Experts in this field of research, called menu engineers, suggest putting no more than seven choices per category to keep your customers’ decision-making anxiety at a minimum. Seven entrees, seven side dishes, seven desserts…you get the idea. If you have a clear theme for your restaurant, seven choices should be enough for any guest.

To keep the menu small but interesting, mix classic foods like hamburgers and fries with more unique choices to give customers plenty to choose from. They can go traditional or take a walk on the wild side at the same restaurant. Plus, you have the opportunity to make a name for yourself with one amazing specialty item.

A great piece of advice is this: Try to use ingredients in more than one recipe so that nothing goes to waste. If you offer a shrimp po-boy, also offer shrimp nachos or shrimp cocktail as an appetizer so you don’t lose money throwing out an expensive item like shrimp every night.

A limited menu means that each of your cooking staff should perfect each recipe and cooking method so that every dish is exactly the same every time it leaves the kitchen. Your restaurant will gain credibility this way. These items will also become quicker to prepare over time, so that your kitchen also gains a reputation for getting hot food on the table in no time. Guests love that about a restaurant. It will keep them coming back and – more importantly – bragging to their friends. A larger menu, in many cases, can lead to poorly prepared food and inconsistency in plating.

Keeping your menu limited should help you in other areas as well. For example, you won’t have to change the items or prices on your menus frequently with a small, well-planned menu, which can save lots of money. Regular customers may even be able to memorize the menu. Also, with a small variety, you can avoid printing large, awkward menus to accommodate all the items you offer in a readable font.

You can always have special temporary menus printed on holidays when you expect a rush…Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, for example. You can feature different menu items during these special times, but we’d still recommend keeping it short and simple.