Restaurants Shrink Menus, Focus Efforts

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The restaurant industry’s Next Big Thing is shrinking the menus.

For years, most major restaurant chains have been expanding their menus at a breathless pace in response to intense competition and consumer demand for more choices. But now, some chains are doing the unthinkable: cutting the number of menu items.

The theory is simple: less is more. More quality. Faster service. Hotter food. Not to mention lower prices, lower costs and higher profits. For the nation’s $683 billion restaurant industry, hit by an uncertain economy and changing consumer habits, this may be an unlikely, back-to-the-future path to progress.

Fewer menu options not only cuts costs, but — in theory — can make customers happier because chains can do a better job with their most popular menu items.

This pruning is mostly about appealing to Millennials. They value basics such as food quality, flavor, local sourcing and the ability to customize their meals over massive menus.

This less-is-more philosophy has spread industry-wide.

The total number of menu items at the nation’s top 500 restaurant chains is down 7.1% this year — from 40,658 in 2013 to 37,770 this year. The biggest drop is in entrées, down nearly 9%. Appetizers are down 8%, dessert items down 7.5%.

Too many choices make it hard for consumers to make a choice. It also can make it difficult for consumers “to remember why they go to a particular restaurant. Many chains aim now to differentiate based on quality not breadth.

It may seem contradictory, but the menu shrinking comes at the same time chains also are trying to offer more customized options for the remaining items.

At most restaurants, entrees are disappearing fastest, with the average at full service restaurants down from 60 in 2013 to 55 this year.

The focus has evolved from menu size to the food quality. If you don’t have great food in the restaurant business, what do you have?

But it’s not always as simple as removing slow-moving items. It’s sometimes the best customers who prefer those items — and no one wants to upset them.

Source:, 8-24-2014

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