What’s on the Menu? Smart Management Helping Restaurants Survive
Menus are changing as eateries choose dishes that prioritise speed and margins over precision. Here’s how one operator is making it work.
For Simon Michelangeli, owner of Glass House Brewery on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, the COVID-19 crisis provided the push to put in place plans already under consideration. These include introducing takeaway pizza and paring back the menu to focus on easier-to-produce, quicker-to-prepare and higher-margin menu items.
“Simplifying the menu and moving to a more casual dining experience was something that we already wanted to do,” says Simon. “But it’s always difficult to make these changes, as you run the risk of alienating customers who’ve grown to like a particular menu or way of operating.”
Glass House Brewery is a 220-seat venue with a beer garden, function room and full-service Italian restaurant. When government restrictions forced Simon to close his doors to dine-in customers, he decided it was the perfect opportunity to test the market with pizza deliveries while he worked on simplifying the menu.
“It would have taken a lot longer and required considerable additional investment to achieve if we had not been hit by COVID,” he says.
Within the first week, the venue was producing about 400 pizzas a week and tinned beer sales soared. The staff made minor layout changes to improve the flow in the kitchen and ramp up pizza production. Then they started work on the a la carte menu.
“Menu simplification is primarily about streamlining processes in the kitchen, which means we can get food out faster and use less labour,” says Simon. “This also means we can create additional capacity and serve more customers at peak times.
“For our venue, turning tables over quickly is less of a priority at the moment. But it may become increasingly important if patron restrictions continue as we move into the busier warmer months where there will be higher demand.”
Simon says it’s important that menu planning took into account that many customers in the post-pandemic period are likely to have less disposable income. “We need to offer more value,” says Simon. “We need to look at all our costs, including our staffing and service model, and put further focus on the beer and celebrating that we’re a brewery.”
Simon says the team formulated the new menu using seasonal produce and “creative use of secondary cuts” to achieve lower food costs. More expensive and labour-intensive menu items, such as fish of the day, steak and tagliolini were replaced by simpler dishes: lasagne, sausages with salsa verde, an eight-hour beef girello roast and slow-braised pork hock.
As well as the popular pizzas, the inclusion of a small selection of high-margin, drink-friendly appetisers such as calamari, sweet potato chips and wings will help improve the bottom line.
“We anticipate our food costs will be about 25 per cent of sales, down from 28 per cent,” he says. “We’re also working on labour costs coming down from 38 per cent to below 35 per cent. This will potentially save us $500 to $700 per week.”
With the average price of a main at Glass House Brewery down from $24.50 to a wallet-friendly $19.60, it’s a win for diners, too.
An initiative of Fine Food, Hospitality Unites is the voice of the foodservice industry, dedicated to sharing the collective experiences and solutions to thrive in a post-COVID economy.
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