Bad Menus

Foodie Friday!  Maybe you’ve seen one of the many shows that fall into what I’ll call the “restaurant rehab” genre.

Dinner menu from Water St./ Beaver St. locatio...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know what I mean.  A restaurant is failing, a celebrity chef comes in, makes changes and voilà, business saved.  Inevitably, the chef changes the decor, makes sure the place is clean (and some are so disgusting you wonder why the health department hasn’t shut them down), savages the owner for faulty purchasing practices (a walk-in full of rotting food is a good sign you’re buying too much for what you’re using!), and, most importantly, goes over the menu and eats the food.

I think I can safely say, without it being too much of a spoiler, that in each and every case the food sucks.  You might think that bad food is the reason these places are having problems.  I think the bad food is a symptom, not the disease.  The real problem is a bad menu and maybe that’s a phenomenon that could cause problems with your business too.  Let me explain.

Nearly every place that’s been on one of these shows has a menu that’s similar in scope to an encyclopedia.  They have way too many items.  The chef thinks that they’re providing a service by letting diners order..well…almost anything.  The reality is that they setting the business up for problems.  More dishes requires more varied ingredients (the full refrigerator of rotting food).  Cooking them requires more staff training and quality control is harder.  After all, if a cook is making a dish once a week, they’re far more likely to screw it up than if they cook it hourly every night.  Finally, it confuses your patrons.  It’s stressful wondering which choice is great and which items aren’t.

Fewer choices executed perfectly is usually the solution on the TV shows and it is in most businesses and products too.  Think about Word, the widely used word processing program.  Microsoft filled it with features and, to be sure users would see them, put lots of buttons on the menu bar.  That was confusing and very few users cared about the new features each version brought so they didn’t pay to upgrade.  I know people who are still happily using Word 2003.

This notion goes as far back as Henry Ford.  You could get any color car you wanted as long as it was black.  Think of Apple – there is limited customization possible with their phone operating system but that’s just fine for most users and the products are high-quality.

We all want to give consumers choice.  What we don’t want to do is to confuse them or to offer an inferior product.  Just as the restaurants found out, that’s a recipe for failure.  Fewer options perfectly executed is my take.  What’s yours?

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