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3 Best Practices for Testing Menus

What do limited-time offers (LTOs), soft launches and operational considerations have to do with menu testing? Everything.
3 Best Practices for Testing Menus

You’ve evaluated your menu against your brand, established goals for it, considered the trends and have completed a full, data-driven analysis. Based on all of that, your menu is revamped and ready to debut. The next step: testing it using LTOs and a soft launch. 

Step 1: Start with LTOs

When rolled out at least three months before officially launching your new menu, LTOs are a great testing platform. Here’s why:

  1. They’re execution practice for back-of-house staff. The 90 day window gives your kitchen staff time to learn how to prep and create the new items. If any pain points come up in the process, there’s time to adjust ingredients and techniques (if necessary) before printing your new menu, which locks you into execution. It also affords you the opportunity to adjust prices if new items require more labour or come in at higher food costs than estimated.
  2. Front-of-house staff can learn the new menu and the best way to sell it. Wait staff can’t sell what they don’t know or understand. With 90 days, they have time to intimately get to know what’s new and test different selling strategies to discern what works best. When your new menu launches, they’ll be able to pitch it with confidence.
  3. It creates room for customer feedback and buy-in. Ask customers for their thoughts. Put questions out about your LTOs on social media, leave comment cards for them to rate items and have direct conversations. Consider making changes if you get recurring feedback. This will help you gain their loyalty, because their contribution will make them feel like they belong, and help them acclimate to the new menu before changes go into effect.

Step 2: Scale up menu testing with a “soft launch”

Larger in scale than using LTOs, a soft menu launch allows you to  test executing the full menu in a controlled fashion. Controlling a soft launch comes in two forms: offering smaller portions or samples of your new menu, and being selective about the time of day or audience you present said samples to.

  • During slow or closed dayparts: Not open for lunch? Is that your slowest period? Offer bites of your new menu during those times. Observe how your kitchen runs and how your staff interacts with guests. 
  • Create a customer event: Invite your customers and a few special guests to sample your new menu. Consider it a trial run, and make note of any hiccups that need to be smoothed out.
  • Invite the media: Welcome local journalists, news station anchors, talk show hosts, food bloggers, etc. to try your new items during a one-day event in return for in-depth feedback and positive coverage. This free advertising will help spread awareness about your revised menu and bring in new customers.

A soft launch should be done about 30 days before the go-live date for your full menu. To help draw a crowd, consider making it a charitable event. Donate all or a portion of the sales to a local charity or community cause. 

Also, build feedback into your soft launch with a survey. Provide a rating scale for the taste of the food, how it’s presented on the plate, its value (not price!) and include an open-ended question that asks how they would describe the dish to a friend. Print the surveys, email them and/or post them in your social media channels. Encourage participation by connecting it to a giveaway for a gift card to your restaurant. Use the answers to refine your menu descriptions.

Step 3: Keep operational impact top of mind

As you’re testing your modified menu, it’s important to constantly analyze the operational impact, including:

Menu Testing - Checklist

Moving through menu testing, from LTOs to a soft launch, allows you to address customer feedback, remove executional obstacles and work through operational consequences. When combined, this trifecta mitigates the risk change creates and sets your new menu up for success.

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