Do you have to raise menu prices to stay competitive when inflation is high? Not always. Find out what you can do instead.
Anyone who has eaten in a restaurant over the past six months has noticed a change in the cost of food in restaurants. It seems like everywhere from local grub spots to fast food chains are raising their prices (or shrinking their portions).
This in itself isn’t surprising, so customers are often understanding. It’s hard out there after all. Prices have gone up in their local supermarkets, so why wouldn’t they go up in their local restaurants too?
However, not every customer is — or rather, can afford to be — so forgiving. If you run a restaurant, you know that an increase in pricing is an easy way to alienate a loyal customer base and scare business away.
Luckily, with a bit of creativity, restaurant operators can evaluate their menu against the cost of inflation and come out ahead, even without raising prices.
It’s no secret that some food groups are hit harder from inflation than others. For example, while some staples like red meat and dairy products are seeing steep price increases, some over categories like fresh vegetables are staying (somewhat) more stable.
An inflation-friendly menu takes the cost of food in restaurants into consideration to benefit their customer and their bottom line. Instead of seeing a change in pricing in restaurants, customers see a change in menu.
Though this change can still be a hard adjustment, if done right, it can be a positive one. We spoke to a few real-life restaurant owners and dove into market insights to determine how restaurant owners could best pull off an inflation-friendly menu.
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This message rings true for restaurants. One of the most important parts of creating a resilient, inflation-proof menu is simplifying it. Figure out what your establishment is really good at and stick to producing that.
A menu change (or adjustment) is a great time for chefs and other culinary professionals to exercise their creativity.
Don’t be afraid to use this time to experiment with new ingredients and unlikely flavor combinations. You could end up saving money on food sourcing and attracting new guests.
Variety can be a big selling point for restaurants, but in times like these it doesn’t make sense to keep items on your docket if they don’t sell well. After all, it costs money to store ingredients, especially if they’re perishable.
It’s a philosophy that works well for Marc Device, president of the Seaside Bar & Grill in Bonita Springs, Florida.
“We are meeting suppliers regularly to renegotiate prices on key ingredients,” he shared. “We review our menu regularly and remove any items that are not selling well. We are sure to take advantage of discounts and specials when ordering supplies. We have also condensed our menu to ensure less waste.”
When it comes to dealing with inflation in restaurants, the important thing to keep in mind is your customers’ expectations. While it would be easy to swap out high quality ingredients for lower counterparts, this kind of change will not lend well with your customers. They will notice and it will not reflect well on the restaurant.
Here’s an example: Plant-based meats are expected to reach parity with conventional meats by 2023. Instead of swapping your meat products for a lower quality version, consider reimaging a signature dish into a vegetarian variety.
Getting a jump-start on this switch can help you expand offerings to a new demographic of flexitarians, vegetarians, and vegans. And with the right cooking techniques and spices, you might be able to win over even the most ardent of carnivores.
Remember, we’re not dealing with just any kind of inflation right now — this is pandemic-induced inflation. The supply chain is still affecting food manufacturing and may not let up any time soon.
It’s a reality that Sawsan Abublan, founder of the popular quick-service Mediterranean restaurant Shawarma Press, knows all too well. Part of her key inflation survival strategy involves paying close attention to the habits of the supply chain.
“First of all, we removed grape leaves from the menu due to supply chain shortages,” she said. “Our distributor couldn’t maintain the supply of the authentic product ingredients. Another menu item we removed was our homemade tabouleh, due to missing one major ingredient, bulgur wheat, and the inability of our distributor to carry it for us. We also removed pickles from the menu for the same reason.”
And although it wasn’t the main driving force in the fight against inflation, Abublan did end up having to increase some menu item prices.
She said, “we had to adjust the prices of menu items that include chicken and beef due to significant price increases. We serve all-natural Halal chicken and beef with no hormones added, so this also made it more difficult to find another supplier with competitive pricing.”
If you put yourself in the shoes of a consumer, would you rather see an increase in prices in restaurants, or a slight tweak of a menu?
In a world where everything from our toothpaste to our floor cleaner costs more than it did previously, the answers are obvious. Luckily, the creative minds of restaurant owners are well-versed in challenges.
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