How Often Should a Restaurant Update Its Menu? - A Guide

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It’s the 21st century, and most restaurateurs are adopting a digital menu. If you’re in this category, congratulations on owning a modern restaurant powered by a digitised menu. If you’re not in that category, don’t worry, this article is still for you too. 

There are several things you ought to do with a menu to continuously reap its full benefits. Among these is a timely update of the dishes on offer. Hence, the question on the lips of many restaurateurs is, “how often should a restaurant update its menu?”

How Often Should a Restaurant Update Its Menu? (Plus Reasons)

The short answer is at least four times a year.

You’d find many expert articles that suggest updating your menu at least once a year. However, we have a different opinion — not just some random opinion but one based on solid market facts.

We know this answer is controversial, and you’ll be justified to doubt it in current market conditions. That’s because an optimal update timeline would vary by restaurant. Also, there’s a need for marketing insight to help pinpoint the necessary menu changes (more on these later).

Be sure to continue reading to understand why you should be updating your menu more frequently than you think.

What’s the importance of keeping your menu up to date online at least four times a year?

Here are the main reasons:

  1. There are four seasons in a year.
  2. Seasons have their foods.
  3. Inflation occurs almost monthly.
  4. It enhances your creativity.
  5. Trends are more common today.
  6. Changes in the industry.
  7. Competition is fiercer nowadays.

Four Seasons Per Year

There are four seasons in a year, and while the ingredients of one season can last into the next season, their prices will increase, and they’ll be harder to find. Based on this fact, it’s clear that a restaurant can’t consistently offer fresh, natural dishes without a flexible menu.

There’s no need to further emphasise the importance of keeping your menu up to date online. If you want your menu to be seasonally relevant, keep it fresh as consistently as possible. However, some of us who run restaurants with a fixed menu might think updating it to accommodate seasonal changes is unnecessary work.

Since you aren’t a franchised food chain, consistency isn’t a requirement for success. In fact, consistency only tells people that you resort to processed ingredients when fresh ones aren’t in season.

Even if you aren’t a seasonal restaurant, it’s necessary to offer some seasonal dishes, which everyone knows to be fresh and in season. This is why even updating your menu once or twice a year isn’t good enough — in fact, it may be inadequate. You need to revise your menu at the beginning of each season by studying how to update your restaurant menu. 

Seasons Have Their Foods

Customers know local foods that are in season because they see them in other restaurants and the local markets. Consumers will associate a certain type of selection of foods with each season. Not providing fresh foods or not seasonally updating your menu will deprive some of your customers of their missing favourites, forcing them to look elsewhere for those dishes.

As a restaurateur, you know that certain ingredients disappear from the market or become inexplicably scarce in some seasons. It may be next to impossible to continue to use such items in your restaurant and still make a profit unless you increase prices significantly.

Of course, you can keep using the ingredients during times of scarcity. Thus, your menu can remain the same throughout the year, but this means one or both of two things:

  • You must be willing to absorb the additional costs.
  • You integrate processed food into your recipes.

We don’t think you’d like either of the cases listed above; the only way to avoid both is to keep your menu seasonally relevant. In other words, you should update your menu at least four times a year since there’s no way you can avoid the impact of seasonality on your menu. Here are eye-catching themes to implement when designing a digital menu. 

Inflation Occurs Almost Monthly

We’re seeing current inflation change by the month, with an overall upward trend. Without updating your menu frequently nowadays, you won’t be able to price based on your restaurant’s costs, making it difficult to predict cash flow and grow a profitable business.

Due to the frequency of changes in food prices, untimely menu updates will lead to losses or over-pricing of your dishes. If food prices increase, you lose. If they decrease, your dishes become expensive compared to other restaurants.

Enhancement of Creativity

Suppose you’re a restaurant that offers new, innovative specials. In that case, updating your menu more often gives you immense creative freedom since you can introduce, modify, and retire items at least every month based upon demand.

In a modern market landscape, such freedom is invaluable. The easier it is to invent new dishes, the more creative you can become, leading to more customers and higher sales if you know what you’re doing.

Trends Are More Common Today

We’ve seen that the restaurant industry today experiences more changes than in times past. You only have to scroll through social media to see trends constantly going in and out of fashion. For example, although it hasn’t been long since the digital menu invention, new features constantly spring up that aim to improve customer experiences.

Here are some trends in the digital menu space that you should be aware of, whether you’ve adopted digital menus in your restaurant, or you’re yet to switch over.

  1. Competition improves customer experience

Although restaurant software platforms introduce features to overtake, keep leading, or stay in the competition, these innovations ultimately benefit their customers and consumers. This is why you should use a digital menu creator like Menuzen that never falls behind the competition regarding tech advancements.

You may wonder what this has to do with how often to update your menu. Changes that affect customer experience aren’t always related to dishes. The competitive edge the digitised menu achieves over the paper menu is a perfect example of how the non-food aspects of your restaurant can sway customer decisions.

2. Technology is becoming a competitive advantage

Software companies keep introducing new features and designs to gain a competitive advantage, and some of the new releases would delight your customers. If they don’t see it in your restaurant after discovering it somewhere, this can give the impression that your restaurant isn’t listening to consumer demands. The best outcome would be for customers to first discover exciting innovations at your restaurant - that way, you become the standard.

3. Frequency of software upgrades

Look at how much the software and apps you use daily have changed. You probably remember before Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube had reels. Now every platform has adopted short videos after TikTok brought them to fame.

This trend is also seen in the menu space; with more providers looking to provide the best solution to their customers, upgrades are continually being rolled out based on consumer data.

With this in mind, how will you use the options available to you to continue growing your restaurant?

Changes in the Industry

It’s not that updating once a year doesn’t work for any restaurant. But if you pay attention to restaurant market dynamics, you’d discover things can change quickly and in no particular order. Besides, if such changes never occurred, there won’t be a need to update your menu.

All your menu updates should at least accommodate any major changes, especially prices and customer preferences. These are the two factors that kill restaurant businesses the most.

You could insist on waiting 12 months to update your menu. Provided there are no major price or trend changes within this period, there might be no problem. Otherwise, you’re almost certain to suffer losses or displease customers at least. Hence, we can’t overemphasise the importance of keeping your menu up to date online.

Competition Is Fiercer Today

Nowadays, few restaurants can get away with updating their menu at least once a year. Such a restaurant will not only see its sales drop but will also inevitably close down in a competitive environment. Despite the obvious benefits, some restaurateurs underappreciate the need for doing that.

A fiercer competition in the restaurant industry means businesses are frequently updating their menus — and many of them use strong and latest market data for such updates. Restaurants that update their menu 4+ times yearly abound now. You could do some local market surveys around you to confirm this.

The Benefits of Updating Your Restaurant Menu

If everything is working fine in your restaurant, it can be easy to neglect updating its menu. But if you understand how such updates help your business, you’ll be attentive to them.

Many successful businesses in the past have failed because they have gotten complacent. Why would yours be any different?

Let’s see the importance of keeping your menu up to date online.

Profit From Current Trends

The restaurant business, too, has trends; for example, some dishes are more popular at certain times, explaining why restaurants usually include foods in season. Because they’re foods that people know, enjoy, and even miss, you’d see that such foods sell rapidly when they start to emerge.

Some people may choose to eat other dishes because those trending foods aren’t available at the time. But once they discover your restaurant starts to sell such foods, you’d see them ordering and coming for more every day.

Their taste changes automatically because they only previously ate other dishes as a substitute. The reason is that these new foods weren’t available, and not that they enjoyed other dishes better. If your restaurant doesn’t offer these foods, it’ll lose customers to others that do.

An example of this is bubble tea. Bubble tea shops have popped up all across the world as the drink became viral on social media. This led to Starbucks launching its own range to stay up with trends and profit from this growing demand.

Increases Your Customer Base

Word of mouth used to be one of the best ways to grow a restaurant, now it’s social media. The best way to keep a customer is to delight them with your food. 

Introducing new items to your menu and sharing this digitally will attract new customers looking for such a treat. And if customers enjoy one dish, their most probable assumption would be that your other dishes are just as delicious. If this assumption happens to be right, you’ve just won over new, and probably loyal, customers for your other menu items.

This is why you should offer specials on your menu when seeking how to update your restaurant menu. Although specials might not contribute the bulk of your sales, they can improve the market of other items by attracting and retaining new patrons.

Helps Nurture Brand Loyalty

This factor is somewhat similar to the reputational benefits of an evergreen menu. What differentiates them is that brand loyalty is a stronger sales driver than a good reputation. A good reputation shows that people trust you, but trust isn’t equal to a cult-like following.

People can almost equally trust two similar restaurants, but they’re highly unlikely to be loyal to both. By loyalty, we mean they will pass on other restaurants to eat at yours, even if they like the look of dishes at those restaurants.

The fact that your regular customers have unwavering faith in getting their preferred variety and tastes at your restaurant means they’re loyal. But you can’t nurture this perception in them without a menu that’s always at the forefront of the trends. Still, you shouldn’t scrap items people buy well, regardless of the trends.

Updated Menus Boost Reputation

Younger generations rarely prefer a restaurant that never makes changes to its menu; it’s in their nature to want changes. By changing the menu, we don’t mean a drastic shake-up; we’re referring to necessary changes that go with the trend and season. Most times, it isn’t necessary to create new dishes — introducing some ingredients might be all you need.

A restaurant that updates its menu accordingly soon establishes a reputation for freshness and reliability. Fresh because its menu is never dominated by items out of season; reliable because local items in season are always available. And most importantly, fresh and reliable because all the regulars and specials are overly delicious.

Maintain these standards, and every customer will learn to trust your business for the long term, guaranteeing steady revenue and profits.

Minimises Costs and Increases Profits

Using digital menu software with broad collaborative and analytical features lets you glean insights from your restaurant activities. These figures give a good estimate of each menu item regarding sales timeline and quantities. Namely, you’d know what time of the year a particular dish sells the most.

If you do your market research well, you can even identify any external factors that influence these sales. You could also deduce a good estimate of the quantities sold each month. Such marketing intel will help you determine what and how much to stock up on.

How Fresh Menus Cut Costs

So, we were saying that using a digital menu with broad analytical support will help eliminate foods that are killing your business. But make no mistake, you can’t harness the full potential of such a platform, like Menuzen, without regularly updating your menu.

Did you know that America wastes approximately 30–40% of its food yearly? The waste amounts to over $408 billion yearly, enough to feed several African countries year-round. Interestingly, the restaurant industry takes a major share of the blame for this massive waste.

Although we aren’t discussing the contribution of waste to the global food crisis, let’s see how it affects your business.

The lack of a timely menu update is a major contributing factor to restaurant food waste. How can you avoid wasting food when some items on your menu aren’t moving, and you refuse to get rid of them?

1. Modifying some dishes might work.

If you recall, we hinted at using seasonal ingredients to boost the sales of your specials and even regular dishes. You should either remove unpopular dishes or try modifying them with new ingredients to see if there’d be any improvement. But the quickest and easiest fix is to update your menu — we’ll explain how often a restaurant should update its menu in the later part of this article.

So, if you couple regular updates with Menuzen’s deep analytical tools, you should see higher profits due to minimal waste and increased sales. You’ll increase and reduce your prices based on food costs at different times of the year.

For example, tomatoes usually cost more during winter than summer. Your menu must reflect these differences to prevent losses.

Herbed chicken and rice salad or a lemon vinaigrette pasta salad with field peas can be the perfect dish for customers to cope with the heat of a summer day. Not only are the main ingredients cheaper during the summer, but they’re also in season, and people will love it.

2. Strike a perfect balance.

Food fads have become common due to people’s obsession with health and body weight. You can add any trendy dishes to your menu, but they shouldn’t stand in the way of your classics.

Of course, not every fancy dish should appear on your menu just because it’s trendy. From a business point of view, it’s almost impossible to offer every kind of trendy dish and still make a profit on each one. Only include dishes that your market analysis makes you optimistic about.

Many dietary styles have appeared, boomed, and phased out. From the raw food diet to low-carb and grain-free dishes, restaurants have done different food fads over the past few years. Those who were slow to adapt missed the revenue boom triggered by such fads.

We’ve mentioned making use of the opportunities food fads offer. Although some of the gains don’t continue for long, they can be substantial enough to usher in a critical revenue bump and new customers that will help your restaurant for months or years to come.

What to Know Before You Update a Restaurant’s Menu

Updating a menu isn’t a decision to take at random. Although you can set a regular update schedule—which is recommended, by the way—there are underlying market factors that should guide your update; otherwise, you won’t maximise profits or, even worse, suffer losses.

It’s advised to study market trends before updating your menu; ideally, you should do that every month or at least every four months. You shouldn’t make changes to every item on the menu unless required. Sometimes, just changing prices by a few cents or modifying meal descriptions, locations, etc., will do.

What to Add or Remove?

What should you flush off your menu, and what should you introduce? This depends on the items that drive profit for your restaurant. Still, you can’t swap a dish just because it’s out of season, especially if your customers still order it in significant quantities.

Don’t overwhelm your customers with too many items in a menu category — this is one of the common mistakes when curating a menu. As a rule of thumb, it’s better not to have more than seven items per category or 32 items on the menu.

Be cautious with special dishes so as not to make the menu overly complex with many intricate modern dishes. Such dishes will undermine the importance of keeping your menu up to date online.

Increase Prices Gradually

Modifying prices by a few pennies every four months may seem like a ritual. But it offers benefits in the short and long run. An important advantage of small price increases is that customers would hardly notice; even if they do, it won’t incite excessive worries.

Paper Menu and Update Needs

For a restaurant that still uses a paper menu, the cost of updating it might outweigh the benefits. This is especially true if they spent a lot of money designing, printing, and even laminating such menus. Hence, it’s necessary for every modern restaurant to migrate to digital menus.

It’s probably not hard to remember visiting a restaurant with a paper menu that has edits using Tipp-Ex and scribbles - what impression does that make on the freshness of the food?

You mustn’t spend to enjoy the cost reduction advantages of a digitised menu. Many hospitality software, such as Menuzen, offer free menu tools to help your restaurant reduce expenses. With these free options, there are scarcely any logical reasons to prevent a restaurant from going digital.

How often should a restaurant update its paper menu? As often as updating a digital menu regardless of the cost, provided they want to enjoy the importance of keeping their menu up to date online.

Keep the Menu Accurate

You want to update your menu to avoid disappointing customers. Imagine that a particular item on your menu doesn’t meet customers’ demand, and you refuse to remove it. Someone will see it on the menu and think it’s available, only to be disappointed upon ordering it.

Some people won’t even settle down to eat if they know you don’t have such items. But after sitting down and getting comfortable, your waiter apologetically breaks the news that the customer’s preferred dish is no longer available. Imagine such a customer’s reaction on hearing this.

  1. The effects of an inaccurate menu.

So the customer is left with the option to leave or order a different dish. Imagine the disappointment! Either way, they’d be incredibly disappointed or even angry — two big emotions people should never feel about your restaurant.

Okay, so maybe they’d just order some other food. But rest assured, their confidence in your food business will decline significantly, and they’ll start having double thoughts next time they want to visit your restaurant.

2. Menus should be accurate at all times.

Whatever is displayed on your menu means you have it. Once you disappoint a customer several times, or even once for some people, you’re highly likely to lose them forever.

So what does all this have to do with how often to update your menu? A lot.

Some dishes might have sold out, aren’t ready yet, or have even been modified. This can be a major source of embarrassment for your restaurant. If you often find yourself in such a situation, frequently updating your menu is one of the best ways to deal with that.

How to Update Your Restaurant Menu

At the beginning of each season, some things will change in the restaurant industry — because fresh new foods will start to appear in the local markets. When customers see these foods, they’ll come asking for them in your restaurant. Therefore, you need to be prepared for them.

It’s important as a restaurant owner that you know when the foods of a particular season usually appear in the market for the first time. This will help your timely awareness of the trends.

We’re not saying you must know every food item and its harvest time. That would have been better, though. But even if you don’t know everything, it’s important to know the ones you use in your restaurant, even if they aren’t regular dishes or ingredients.

If any trending dishes requiring seemingly strange ingredients abound, you must also take note of those. Our advice would be for you to include the most popular specials without obscuring your standby dishes, needless to say, why. Among the most popular dishes, you can select those whose ingredients are easier to obtain.

What Updating Your Menu Means

When we talk about how to update your restaurant menu, we mean how to add, remove, and modify items on your menu. You can’t do these randomly; otherwise, you might remove or introduce the wrong dishes.

Updating your menu should follow a set process. This section of the guide will discuss these processes, which include:

  • Menu engineering
  • Menu cost/pricing
  • Competitive analysis

Menu Engineering

Menu engineering entails optimising your menu by redesigning it to be more profitable. It should be an ongoing process and can generate 10–15% more profit.

As an established restaurant, you likely already have a brand menu. But if you think the menu needs a fundamental overhaul—probably due to poor sales or high costs—you can still use the earlier outlined process to create a mouth-watering and profitable menu for your restaurant.

Benefits of Menu Engineering

Okay, so we were saying menu engineering helps in redesigning your classics. The method is effective even when designing a minimum variable menu (MVM). An MVM is a menu that contains only the most popular and profitable dishes.

Menu engineering helps in three ways:

  1. Highlights poor-performing dishes.
  2. Identifies the more profitable dishes.
  3. Creates a system for regular menu analysis.

Requirements for Menu Engineering

You need well-analysed market data for menu engineering. Understanding your customers, food costs, menu pricing, and profitability margins is important. You can obtain all the information from your running costs, sales data, and general market research.

A digital menu with analytical tools will make this process faster, easier, and more accurate.

Menu Engineering and Food Classes

Menu engineering classifies the dishes into four distinct groups known as:

  • Stars: High-profitability and high-popularity items.
  • Puzzles: High-profitability and low-popularity items.
  • Plowhorses: Low-profitability and high-popularity dishes.
  • Dogs: Low profitability and low popularity items. These should be eliminated from your menu.

Menu Engineering and Specials

So, let’s assume you decide to offer a particularly special dish for the first time. Anything you sell in your restaurant should move the business forward profit-wise or by customer attraction. Consequently, you have to monitor such specials for their contribution.

You need sales analytical tools to understand the role of each menu item, which is why restaurants should use digital menu software with analytical tools. The performance of these items is a major factor that determines how many times you need to update the menu in a year.

Menu Pricing

When updating your menu, consider the food cost and the cost of all ingredients used in preparing the dishes. Then choose an ideal food cost percentage and determine the selling price. Most restaurants use a food cost percentage of 28–35%.

Let’s say you select an ideal food cost percentage (IFCP) of 30%.

If your raw food cost (RFC) is $5, the price will be: IFCP/RFC = 5/30% = 50/3 = 16.67 or approximately $17.

This is how to calculate and set your menu prices. However, being aware of competitors when choosing an IFCP sums up how to update your restaurant menu with the right prices.

Competitive Analysis

At this point, you’ve identified some new items to add to your menu, or you’ve decided to modify certain dishes. In a competitive environment, other restaurants are likely to offer similar dishes. Needless to say, there are many ways to create a competitive advantage — a timely menu update is one of them.

However, you ought to know how much your direct competitors charge customers for the new items you want to add. It doesn’t imply charging the same or a lower price, but it’ll give you an idea of a reasonable price tag.

You can charge higher than most competitors and still profit more. The reason isn’t far-fetched — a menu isn’t the only thing that attracts customers. Yet, you need to consider competitor prices when setting your prices.

Conclusion

Now that you know how often a restaurant should update its menu, it’s time you get to work making use of the knowledge we’ve stacked into this comprehensive guide. One big piece of advice for you is to adopt the digital menu if you haven’t already. It’ll save you money, time, and headache whenever you update your restaurant’s menu. It also enhances customer experience and brings you abreast of the competition.