Small Menus: The Latest Trends Altering the Fast Food Landscape

The quick service restaurant sector is one of many corporate worlds that frequently experiences shifts in customer preference and industry trends. But what’s next? According to Nation’s Restaurant News contributor Jonathan Maze, quick serve restaurants are embracing smaller, more specialised menus. But is that necessary or even a good strategy? Is there an alternative?

“Is there an alternative to small, simple menus?”

Maze based his assertion about the latest specialised menu trend on McDonald’s experiences in the past few years. McDonald’s rapidly added new products to its menu – reaching almost 140 items in total, according to Maze – until sales started to fall in 2012. In response, the fast food brand started reducing the number of offerings in restaurants, as well as considering only selling certain popular foods via the drive-through, which isn’t completely out of the picture, Maze asserted.

Not so fast
Here is where Maze’s small menu ideology fails to make sense: The Street’s Real Money Contributor Brian Sozzi argued that McDonald’s is losing the fast food wars, and he has data to back it up. Out of 61 million fast food restaurant visits, 79 percent were made to quick-service restaurants, and 23 percent of those were to brands in the hamburger category, according to Sozzi, who cited NPD group research. That same report, Sozzi explained, specifically said that McDonald’s and similar restaurants had “quite weak” performances in June.

The solution: “McDonald’s badly needs new menu items right now, and it needs to issue a press release so that Wall Street and consumers know what the new items are and where they are available,” Sozzi wrote.

There might be a need to reduce the number of menu items for a lot of quick-serve brands, but some restaurants don’t think that is the solution, especially if their menus aren’t particularly massive. Instead, these other companies are trying to remove the complexity behind operations. Maze explained that Arby’s and Burger King have this strategy because despite removing some products from their offerings, taking items off the table is difficult and not always a sound idea. It’s about making operations easier and getting products delivered to the customer faster. That way, it doesn’t matter how many items a menu has.

Removing complexity
The best way to mitigate any problems with complexity of operations and speed of service is to implement better training programmes in both the back and front of house.

And of course, training should include a variety of techniques. Food Service Warehouse highlighted the importance of using visuals in conjunction with hands-on training. Sessions with presentations can go a long way, but employees should always put their knowledge to work with role playing. Then, staff members can be sent home with manuals and supplementing materials.

Offering fewer products goes against the ideology of providing customers with options.Offering fewer products goes against the ideology of providing customers with options.

Furthermore, Small Business Chronicle recommended that quick-serve restaurants should always focus on improving how well their employees work, and, therefore, these companies’ managers should constantly devote resources to making their staff members more productive. In other words, only training new hires is a mistake – everyone should take classes regularly or review materials on a consistent basis. Workbooks and manuals for front and back of house use can act as a reference guide for existing employees. Allowing staff to access those training resources at all times is a necessity, making both physical copies and digital versions quite valuable.

Additionally, hanging posters that detail certain tasks at specific workstations can keep employees in the know. With step-by-step guides or simple bulleted reminders, staff members will have no excuse for forgetting ingredients or service guidelines.

The quick-service retail sector might be evolving rapidly, but these restaurants should not forget the basics of customer service and providing consumers with options.


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