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Is your Restaurant Delivering the Goods?

I've touched on this topic once before, but felt the need to return to it. Currently we are in a bit of a crisis within our industry, rising food, labour and operating costs. Those that survived Covid, are now dealing with yet another if it wasn't enough already.

Menu advertising is covered under a variety of consumer protection laws but many people have felt that restaurants’ misrepresentations deserved more focused attention. Ralph Nader, from a restaurant family himself, may have been the first to call for a Truth in Menu law, in 1972. The first attempt to enact such a law, in the form of a city ordinance, came in San Francisco in 1974 under the sponsorship of then-president of the Board of Supervisors, Diane Feinstein (US Senator, D-CA).

The impetus behind the San Francisco ordinance was to stop restaurants from serving convenience entrees that had been prepared elsewhere, frozen, and reheated in the restaurant, yet were not identified as such and leaving diners to believe they originated in the restaurants’ kitchens.

The use of frozen entrees eventually became an accepted practice in many restaurants as consumers happily accepted dishes prepared in a factory and microwaved in the restaurant’s kitchen. Restaurants are not required to acknowledge that they serve frozen entrees (as the Feinstein ordinance would have required), and many customers would not be horrified if this was revealed, feeling that as long as it tastes good and costs less than food made on-site from scratch, that’s fine with them.

These ordinances never really took hold much at all, and to the best of my knowledge were never a thing in Canada. I have to say though, that it has always been a subject for discussion. I think what really divides a quality operation from a SKETCHY one is ultimately truth in menu, deliver what you say you are going to deliver. In spite of all the rising costs, your integrity will allow you to weather the storm. Despite what you may think...people know quality! Likely more so than ever, people actually learned a little about food during the pandemic.

When the chips are down, the last person that should pay is the customer. Cutting quality to meet your financial goals is wrong. The current situation will pass, best to swallow the bullet, and continue to deliver quality food. And if you have to make adjustments to your menu items, try to reflect it with added value, or just remove the items that are costing to much with items that fit your pricing scheme.

Developing a thoughtful menu pricing strategy is critical in keeping customers happy and growing restaurant profits. The right menu items and prices can even help to reinforce a restaurant’s brand identity, whether it’s a fast casual or fine dining establishment. Owners can look at key factors of their business to determine fair and appropriate prices for the food, service, and ambiance of their restaurant.

Seasonal menu reprints allow restaurants to add and remove items as well as update pricing due to changing cost and availability of ingredients. Managers should also ask suppliers if the food price increase will be a short-term change or a long-term shortage – if the latter, consider researching new ways to obtain ingredients at a lower price.

Here are a few ideas to help adjust your menu pricing, while still maintaining a good price/value relationship.

  • Introduce more vegetarian or plant based options

  • Reduce your protien portion sizes, and add more alternative garnishes to the plate

  • Grow some of your own food

  • Source local, seasonal products

  • Minimize food waste, repurpose leftover products into new items or features

  • Make more foods from scratch

  • Make house made breads and desserts, these are very low cost items and help you to stand out!

Remember the customer is your paycheck, not the books! It only takes one bad experience to lose a customer, and customers talk! They are less likely to tell there friends about a good experience over a bad one. Even in these trying times, the survivors will always put the customer first, survival is the name of the game. Cheers, and have a great week!

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