Quantity is vanity, quality is sanity
A little while ago I was talking with one of my clients who told me that yet another chef had handed in their notice. It seems the writing had been on the wall for some time, with my client explaining that the chef had become disillusioned. Tell-tale signs included poor kitchen management, lack of budget control and too much wastage. We discussed how this had happened; bearing in mind the chef in question had started so well not that long ago.
The more we talked the more it became clear that the root of the problem lay in the menu. Or more to the point the size and breadth of the menu. Although it was a private members club, they were trying to deliver at the last count over 80 different dishes, with only a limited number of staff. The problem was that in an attempt to meet the perceived needs of all its different members, the menu had continued to grow over a period of time. As a result the chef had become overwhelmed by what was being asked to be delivered so that the basics started to be ignored and standards slipped.
The more I thought about it the more I realised how difficult some operators found it to keep their offers manageable.
In my experience when most new pubs, bars and restaurants open they have given a huge amount of thought to what their offer is, from what’s on the menu through to the depth and range of the drinks they stock. Menus look well-constructed and there is usually a strong belief that the size and staffing of the kitchen and front of house can successfully deliver what is on offer.
Unfortunately for some operators these good intentions can too often be overtaken by what they see as commercial imperatives. I always think that in the majority of cases, busy successful outlets tend not to change their offer as frequently as those under more pressure. Unless it’s part of their USP.
And when I say change I really mean ‘add to’. Very few operators who are struggling have the courage to remove items from their menus, in fear of upsetting the one or two people who currently order those items. Instead they just tend to add more dishes to their offer in the hope of attracting new customers. Of course the reality is that by doing this the outlet ends up putting their operation under even more pressure with the real risk that the quality being delivered drops further. This can then lead to a reduction in footfall, piling on the commercial pressure and the whole cycle then gets repeated again and again.
Never mind the quality…
Of course some operators, usually the bigger pub and restaurant chains, pride themselves on the breadth of their offer. Whilst there is clearly a market for this and the price points that these outlets usually try and hit, it invariably comes at a cost. And the cost is often quality. These operators usually rely heavily on pre-cooked and more often frozen meals which then simply require re-heating.
As a result of this, price is more than often a key factor when it comes to how customers make their choice in terms of where they eat. If you are looking to compete in this part of the market then margins tend to be much tighter so budget management and cost control become even more important to ensure your venues profitability. It is also likely that you will need a high turnover of customers and full tables in order to make the books balance.
It doesn’t just impact the kitchen…
Although I would never insist that a pub or a restaurant only adopt a ‘one in, one out’ policy when they are looking to make changes to their menus, it’s certainly a good mantra to start with. Providing customers with lots of choice may sound great but as well as putting additional pressure on your kitchen it can also have other softer but equally influential consequences when it comes to how smoothly each service may run.
The more choice you give to customers the longer it will often take for them to decide what it is they are going to order. This can then reduce the number of times you may be able to turn individual tables around.
The more items you have on your menu the less likely it is for your waiting on staff to be familiar with everything. Product knowledge and recommendations can be a powerful tool especially when it comes to up-selling. Too many menu items can diminish your team’s ability to do this.
Also the more complicated your menu the more chance there is that there might be some miss-communication between front of house and the kitchen.
It’s also about the bar…
Although we have only talked about the food menu so far, there are similar principles which can be applied when it comes to looking at what drinks an outlet stocks, especially when looking at draught beer.
Some pubs in their eagerness to provide their customers with as comprehensive range of drinks as possible often make the mistake of not taking into account the consequences of this generous level of stocking. This is particularly true when it comes to cask ale. It is generally agreed that once ‘tapped’ cask beer should be consumed within 3 days, although if the cellar temperature is kept cool then you may get an extra day or two’s grace on this. After that time it is accepted that quality will start to suffer. Keg beer tends to last a bit longer, between 7 and 10 days, but again very dependent on the cellar being at the right temperature.
Although canned and bottled beers and ciders have a much greater shelf life, often over a year after packaging, it’s important that stock is rotated so that they too don’t go out of date.
Providing an extensive range of beers and ciders is no consolation to your customers if when they take that first drink the quality of what is being served is below par.
Keep it simple…
It may seem obvious but most customers will reward pubs, bars and restaurants with repeat business when they know they are going to enjoy consistently good quality food and drink. In most cases you have a better chance of delivering this when you have a simple manageable menu. Customers won’t overlook poor quality just because you have offered them 1001 different choices.