Local restaurants are slimming down their menus to offset rising costs: Andrew Coppolino

There is a certain flow to catering businesses that oscillates between busier and quieter times. A rhythm, which has been upended by the pandemic, could be further disrupted by an economy that is expected to continue to weaken in 2023.

Restaurants are responding to uncertainties ⁠ — rarely seen supply chain disruptions, staff shortages and soaring inflation ⁠ — by adjusting their operations, including rearranging menus or removing dishes to save labor work and costs.

Kitchener’s Nostra Cucina has removed a few pasta dishes from its menu due to supply issues. Meanwhile, Caesar salad is also currently off the menu due to cost: A case of romaine lettuce that was once $50 is now over $100.

“We try to make a product that is exactly the same every time, but it hasn’t been easy to do,” said co-owner Sian Burns.

In Waterloo, Gol’s Noodles has also reduced its menu, owner Yuming Gao said.

“We have made some adjustments to our BBQ menu due to the unstable supply of ingredients. We have reserved dishes for which we have stable supplies.”

Reducing menus a good strategy

While the current pandemic business climate is unique, streamlining menus has always been a good strategy for restaurateurs. That’s according to Vince Sgabellone, foodservice industry analyst at NPD Canada, a market research firm.

“It always happens that the majority of sales and revenue come from a minority of menu items. Everything else is secondary, and when you’re really busy and have a steady flow of customers, those secondary items are fine. “

However, in a downturn, these items can lead to lower revenue, Sgabellone said.

This is the hot table of Sari Sari Filipino Cuisine. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Try new strategies to reduce costs

Jared Ferrall of Crafty Ramen said he simplified his menus to increase speed and consistency.

“We also removed the meat lovers ramen because it was getting too expensive and didn’t represent who we are, Ferrall said.

A smaller menu isn’t necessarily a bad thing: one theory is that you choose dishes that you can execute very well and excel at.

“A restaurant with dozens of menu items probably won’t do well with all of them,” Sgabellone said, adding that a menu that has “a bit of everything” needs to be tightened up, which can save money.

“The consumer has also become more demanding. There is a certain expectation, especially among younger consumers who are a little less brand loyal and like to shop around to find what is newer and better. A customer who wants Indian food tonight will go [to] best Indian restaurant they can find,” he said.

A new way of thinking

Restaurants streamlining their operations have become a necessity during pandemic shutdowns, including switching to a take-out model when dining rooms have had to be closed.

Stephanie Soulis, owner of Little Mushroom Catering, says offering the same menu items to the kitchens they serve reduces labor and ingredient costs. (Submitted by Stephanie Soulis)

The first items to disappear from menus were dishes that traveled badly. The process helped forge a new way of thinking about dine-in and take-out, and restaurants became pretty good at the rapid changes in their operations.

Vita Saelzer, head chef at Miijidaa in Guelph, said menu changes are more difficult due to shortages of supplies, rising costs and understaffing. The menu cut will only come after pursuing other strategies.

“I reuse prep items across the board and find ingredients that are cheaper than I would typically be inclined to use,” Saelzer said.

Stephanie Soulis of Little Mushroom Catering in Cambridge has a similar philosophy.

“For the most part, we try to streamline our menus. We have a lot of cuisines we serve, so making sure we have the same menu items across the board cuts down on labor costs and the costs of ingredients,” she said.

The tomatoes and olives in a blister pack for a flatbread prepared in one place are also in a pasta dish in another, for example.

Chez Sari-Sari Filipino Cuisine, a restaurant that relies heavily on expensive meat for its menu (and where they butcher in-house), offers specialties based on the availability of ingredients.

Ylynee Rosales Enriquez, left, and Jeanette Enriquez of Sari-Sari Filipino Cuisine say they now run specials based on ingredient availability (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

But a sharing strategy ⁠—one prep for two apps ⁠—has evolved in these tougher times, said Ylynne Rosales Enriquez of Sari-Sari.

“It’s based on our schedule. If we’re really busy with a catered order, we’ll base the featured dishes on what’s already done that day.”

Ready for what’s next

Fat Sparrow restaurateur Nick Benninger says he doesn’t need to cut back on his menu yet ⁠—.

“We already have short menus and we’re still knee deep in our busy season. When we reach our slower season, we may reduce the menus,” he said.

Is there a glimmer of light in a gloomy economy? Josh Perovic of Hemlock Barn in St. Jacobs is hopeful.

Hemlock Barn owner Josh Perovic is ‘cautiously optimistic’ the shortages won’t last but says he’s ready to pivot if needed. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

“Shortages are bad, but as we earn the most [of] our house food is not terrible. I’m cautiously optimistic that it will settle down eventually. Since COVID-19, I’m always ready to pivot,” he said.

Soulis at Little Mushroom expresses a similar approach.

“If we go into a recession, I can’t imagine it’s worse than being shut down multiple times by the government. Knowing what we’ve been able to do during COVID-19, I think we can handle it. “

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