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Hamilton Beach Commercial Blog


New Year, New Tastes: How to Analyze and Optimize Your Menu for 2024

8:30 AM on December 18, 2023

Most menu optimization advice focuses on paring down your offerings to what’s most popular and most profitable.menu-optimization-image For example, a TURF (Total Unduplicated Reach and Frequency) analysis can identify the core essentials: that is, the shortest possible list of items needed to satisfy the vast majority of customers.

But you shouldn’t neglect the second step: expanding the menu to include innovative new dishes. These creative approaches can help you start thinking about how to shake things up — successfully — in the year to come.


1. Define your customers’ need states.

To optimize your menu, you need to not only understand what your customers like, but their circumstances and their mindsets. Paying attention to these need states is key, said Aaron Noveshen, founder and CEO of California chicken chain Starbird and founder of foodservice consulting firm The Culinary Edge, in a recent podcast on menu innovation.

“Are they on the go?” Noveshen said. “Are products being delivered? Are they thinking about health and wellness? Are they thinking about something indulgent and delicious?” These need states may change with the seasons. For Starbird’s customers, summer means salads. Back-to-school is time for family meals. Football season brings a huge appetite for wings.

2. Name your own goals.

Revamping the menu isn’t just about pleasing customers; every change you make must also serve your business objectives. Do you want to build your lunch crowd? Sell more beverages? Increase food ordering at happy hour?

Fine-dining establishments’ typical goal is to “build the ticket”: create a special dining experience with drinks, apps, entrees and dessert, as Gary Occhiogrosso of Franchise Growth Solutions pointed out in the podcast. Fast-casual restaurants, on the other hand, seek to become a dining habit for their customers: offering a menu to encourage frequent visits “because you’ve got something special, you’ve got something new, you’ve got something innovative.”

3. Study the trends.

While there’s no need to completely reinvent your menu to reflect current food fads, it’s worth looking at the trends and asking yourself how they can freshen your flavors. Whole Foods Market’s predictions are always an interesting place to start. Their 2024 food trends include:

  • Putting the “plant” back in “plant-based” — a return to simpler, less processed ingredients such as nuts, mushrooms, legumes and tempeh
  • Buckwheat — the use of naturally gluten-free buckwheat and buckwheat flour in more food
  • Complex heat — “Specialty varieties like Scorpion Peppers, Guajillo or Hungarian Goathorn Peppers are found fresh, whole, ground or pickled, and a new wave of botana sauces and chili oils are popping up in condiment aisles nationwide.”

4. Take a food safari.

Menu innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Take a weekend to visit a new city and try novel dishes for yourself! Noveshen takes his clients on a “food safari,” where they spend days sampling a particular food — like chicken wings, for example. Pay attention to the flavors, the presentation, seasonal options, pricing, etc. You may find inspiration that you can bring back home.

5. Identify your anchors.

An often-used piece of menu psychology is the “anchor item”: the highest-priced offering, which sets customer expectations for pricing on the rest of the menu. If your crab-topped filet is priced at $48 USD, for instance, the cornmeal-crusted trout at $32 USD looks like a bargain.

Be sure to optimize the lowest-priced anchor as well, Yelp recommends. “If a steak costs $35 and the chicken burger costs $8, your menu will look…strange. Instead, drag the price of your lowest anchor item up to a price somewhat in striking distance of your high anchor. Voilà: You’ve earned more with your lowest-priced item and are more likely to sell more profit-happy items.”

6. Reconsider how your menu meets dietary restrictions and preferences.

Have you had the same two menu options for vegetarians and gluten-free diners for the past five years? It’s time to freshen things up. Look for opportunities to offer ingredient substitutions, serve dishes that meet multiple dietary requirements, and otherwise expand the possibilities.

Don’t forget to review the dietary legends on your menu as well. You may have a little V for vegetarian… but will some customers assume that means vegan? You may have the GF for gluten-free… but do you also need a disclaimer saying cross-contamination may occur? Make these symbols as clear as possible to prevent diners (and servers) from getting confused.

7. Be famous for something.

Maybe you’ve never heard of these restaurants or their “famous” dishes and drinks. That’s OK! The marketing is what matters. Having a signature dish can make your restaurant memorable, help define your brand, and give new diners a reason to visit.

Explore our full line of intelligently designed foodservice equipment solutions to support your culinary innovations.


Topics: Menu, food trends, menu trends, fine-dining, 2024 food trends

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