How to keep dining decision makers happy (and still make money)

August 31, 2021
Paul Rifkin

In my work as a consulting chef, I review many menus, looking for ways to improve or fine-tune them. Something I always ask for is the sales numbers on all the menu items and the scale of best sells, from most sold to least sold. These numbers tell me a lot about the menu design, customer preferences and potential cost control issues.

The obvious items that stand out are those that sell most and least. Based on the selling price, it’s relatively easy to determine if they are profitable or not.

A high selling item that has a low gross profit will very quickly reduce profitability across the whole menu. One example that I see all the time is using a scotch fillet for a steak and having it at a similar price point as a rump. The scotch will usually outsell the rump on most menus. The rump might cost around $6 to $8 whereas the scotch often falls in the $12 to $14 cost bracket.

High volume of a low gross profit item will skew all the rest of the menu’s costings, producing a lower than required gross profit. Sometimes it’s a deliberate tactic used as a loss leader to entice customers into the venue to spend on other items. Mostly it only creates cost control issues that are hard to reverse. For example, when the price is adjusted up and customers get annoyed.

Another winning tactic is a bargain priced fish and chips. If managed correctly, the ‘bargain’ is only against what the customer perceives to be its normal higher price. This is achieved through smart buying and tighter controls, with the end result a higher percentage gross profit overall.

A parmigiana is another classic that can be used as a loss leader. Often the overall cost of goods is substantially lower than a steak-to-price ratio.

While higher selling items are easy to analyse for their overall effect on the menu, the opposite is to be said for the lower selling items. Mostly lower selling items are removed, as they are just taking up menu real estate with little return.

I have different thoughts on this. Let’s say for example that you have a vegan dish on the menu. It sits mostly in the less sold items. Initial analysis would indicate that it should be removed from the menu, but further investigation is required.

What if the host or decision-maker in the family – the person with the loudest voice, usually – is able to steer the group to where they will dine. In this scenario, one person may order the vegan meal or the item that appeals to them, and everyone else will order mainstream items.

Commonly known as the ‘veto vote’, it’s a bit like the tail wagging the dog, yet it is a real thing and determines the ultimate choice.

I believe that sales analysis should be investigated further. I would normally ask customers for feedback, especially those ordering the low sellers.

You just might be surprised at the outcome and the power of one person over the group’s decision on where to dine.

Just a thought.

chefpaulrifkin consulting / Club mentoring and fine tuning specialist / chefpaulrifkin@hotmail.com

Chef Paul Rifkin
Chef Paul Rifkin


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