Exotic menus?

Fine … but why do you have dog on your menu?

Creating menus that are exciting and fresh for our guests is a constant focus of most Chefs and F&B Managers. As they evaluate their menu items, too often personal bias and anecdotal customer comments drive what stays and what goes. This is dangerous and leads to significant inefficiencies in mise en place, as well as waste.

A better way to analyze a menu is through a menu analysis program or MAP. Menu engineering of this type was developed in 1982 by Professor Don Smith at Washington State University, however there have been many versions adapted from his research. Simply speaking, MAP takes a series of menu items in a named menu category and compares the quantity sold against its profitability. The spreadsheet may also use factors that true up production, based on its menu mix to the overall set or its average contribution margin compared to the overall set.

The result is a mapping of those items into classifications for ease of assessment. Those four classifications are Star, Puzzle, Plowhorse or Dog.

Stars are those menu items which are both high in contribution margin (meaning that they contribute the higher amount of profit per item in that category) and high in menu mix or popularity.

Plowhorses are popular, but lower in contribution margin.

Puzzles are not popular at all, but when sold, offer higher contribution margins.

Dogs are the worst performer in both popularity and contribution margin.

If we were to show this in a graph, it would look like this:

Using a sample set of menu items for a period of one month, we insert the quantity sold, plate cost, and sales price data into the spreadsheet as follows:

MAP will then compute each category based on this performance data.

Of these 17 menu items for this sample steak restaurant, five menu items are in the Star category for this period of time, four Plowhorses, two Puzzles, five Dogs and one item that didn’t have data to compare. So what does this mean?

It is suggested that you maintain offering the Star menu items and remove the Dog items immediately. Although that is fundamentally true, there could be other factors in play that may change your decision on these items. Those reasons could be as simple as requiring an item to remain on the list, regardless of being a Dog performer because it is a request item from a valuable player or frequent guest. Those factors are important to the overall goal of why this restaurant is located within a casino in the first place.

With regards to Plowhorses and Puzzles, it is suggested that the menu item should be reworked to move its status up or right in the performance graph. Plowhorses, which are highly popular, may need to have their contribution margin adjusted, either in higher sales price or in smaller or different portions to improve their cost margin to the sales price.

Puzzles are very profitable, however no one is buying them. This might be a simple fix in better sales techniques of the service professionals or through the science of improved item placement on the menu and better menu descriptions. Should the data trend over a period of months even after these adjustments, it is suggested that you remove the Puzzle and add a new menu item in its place that might perform better and ultimately be selected by your guests.

There are many factors and tools to improve your food and beverage operation; Menu Analysis is just one. MAP should be used in conjunction with Labor vs. Sales tools, Integrated Purchase Accounting and effective Marketing.

Brett Magnan
Brett Magnan 14 Articles