A restaurant server explains some menu specials to a customer

Three ways to apply quarterly, limited menus

Flexibility helps restaurants navigate labor, supply-chain challenges.

Experts predict labor shortages and supply chain challenges will continue for months. To ease the pressure, restaurants can call on quarterly or limited-time menus.

Menu flexibility lessons learned early in the pandemic are still valuable, according to Gordon Food Service Business Solutions Specialist Eric Schamp. In today’s climate, he advises operators to build a menu around two pain points—staffing capabilities and product availability.

“Know which menu items you can execute consistently with the team you have available,” Schamp said. “And do an analysis on which ingredients you can obtain consistently at an acceptable price point.”

Prepare for menu pivots

Confidence is key to menu creation, whether it’s a full menu, a quarterly menu or a limited menu. It’s hard on everyone when you must change the menu overnight.

Restaurants typically update menus once a year, often in the spring. Over the past two years, menus pivoted more frequently based on everything from capacity limits to takeout needs and beyond. 

The need to be nimble hasn’t changed. For success, Schamp recommends choosing from three menu practices:

1. Plan quarterly or limited-time menus

These menus focus on seasonal flavors and products. Examples include a Valentine’s menu, in-season fruits and vegetables, a summer barbecue menu, a warm fall soup menu, etc. Limited-time menus—cold summer beverages, pumpkin spice in the fall or sharing plates for the holidays—get customers excited at the same time they help operators capitalize on ingredient availability.

“These are easy to execute with single-sheet paper menus or QR code digital menus,” Schamp said. “You can easily print up these separate menus or quickly update your digital menu to meet capabilities.”

2. Create a stand-by menu

Limited menus also can come into play when restaurants need stress relief.

“Let’s say the manager sees that the kitchen is not going to be able to keep up with the volume on Friday night, so they pull their menu off the floor and put in this other limited menu that helps the kitchen and the restaurant get back on track,” Schamp said. “Maybe they roll with that menu the rest of the evening, and then the next day they start with their normal menu.”

3. Act like a startup restaurant

Many new restaurants struggle to adjust their ambitions with reality. In today's tough business climate, Schamp points out that Gordon Food Service is available to help operators plan their menu.

He described a concept kitchen experience with a restaurant planning to open near Indianapolis. “We created a menu for them, but as we looked at all of the things they wanted to do, we scaled it back before they opened.”

The plan was to go with a scaled-back menu for a couple of weeks before trying the main menu. However, labor, equipment and supply concerns have them still making tweaks. The smaller startup menu was a good plan. 

“It led them to discover what they can and can’t execute consistently. Using that smaller menu really helped them understand their business,” Schamp said.