The deck has never been more stacked against chefs and restaurant operators. Start with the obvious—a recent National Restaurant Association survey found that 72 percent of restaurant operators listed labor as their top challenge. Then there’s the supply chain, with once dependable proteins and ingredients being inflated to a degree that makes it hard to turn a profit on certain menu items.
Chef Brian Duffy, a restaurateur, consultant to the industry, and frequent guest on Bar Rescue, says that chefs have to factor in these challenges when designing their menus. It’s part of the reason that menus have begun shrinking industry wide. According to Datassential, 60 percent of menus were trimmed from August 2020 to August 2021.
And while simplifying menus can be a great solution, a potential pitfall is menu fatigue, or diners getting tired of seeing the same things over and over when they go out to eat. Repetition goes against the very reason many are going out to eat in the first place: According to Datassential, 41 percent of consumers are looking to experiment rather than stick with familiar foods.
“Looking around the industry, everyone is starting to do the same things,” Duffy says. “You can’t find a bar-style restaurant right now that isn’t doing a smashburger. In the world of Mexican food, everyone’s doing tinga. That’s great, but people get tired of seeing it if it’s not presented in a unique way. It’s up to chefs to find ways to come up with menu items that are maybe twists on familiar items, or something new altogether.”
Here are a few cost-conscious ways that Duffy and other chefs are innovating to ensure that diners don’t suffer from menu fatigue.