26 May 2022

Opinion from Adrian Leopard & Co

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Menu choices in restaurants are down. Why would that be?
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Menu choices in restaurants are down. Why would that be?

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A possible change in the way restaurants handle their menus could be on the way

The restaurant trade has been in something of a turmoil now for quite some time.

Hospitality has been thrown around over the past eighteen months like a little boat on the sea in a hurricane – and that is really no exaggeration! Any business which went into the pandemic and has come out the other side has been very lucky and it is not over yet.

Anyone who watches Alex Polizzi’s hotel inspector programme on television will know that she has very strong views about pubs, restaurants and hotels and she is not afraid to express them. Sometimes her views seem to conflict with previously expressed views but perhaps we may simply say “that is television”. But one thing she does talk about quite consistently is the style of restaurant menus and here she certainly has a point.

Production of good food in restaurants is a subjective matter because, as they say, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Some people love hamburgers whilst others say they are just a cheap fast food snack. Both are right in their own way which is why restaurants have to decide what market they wish to play to and to focus on that. How many times have we seen Ms Polizzi tell the owner of a hotel or restaurant that their menus are far too extensive, so extensive in fact that the chances of being able to produce good quality results get lower the bigger the menu.

The reasons for this are not difficult to see. The big problem is stock – a big menu requires a huge stock to be sure to cover all items which may be ordered. Huge stock has to be kept so generally speaking this is done by using a deep freeze. What happens to food when it is frozen? Well it changes its quality and flavour for the worse.

But now restaurants are finding that they must reduce their menu sizes for other reasons and these are related to the pandemic. Confidence is returning slowly to the market but there is far less eating out at the moment than there was pre-pandemic. On that basis smaller menus are really necessary because of the risk of over-stocking and consequent waste.

There is another factor and that is a shortage of staff in the hospitality industry. Given the number of hospitality businesses which have closed, the staff shortage is something of an enigma but it looks like a combination of Brexit and the pandemic whereby the pool of foreign labour has returned to its own country and not come back again.

There is now a further issue which may cause difficulties and that is the availability of food and increasing costs. These are factors which are developing around us on a daily basis.

So restaurateurs have got to think their way forward and this has prompted them to have less dishes, as it is termed, on their menus so they can be less susceptible to the vagaries of shortage in supply of different commodities.

Research tells us that there is an average of 20% less dishes on menus now than there was pre-pandemic.

But there is a bright side to this – as mentioned above smaller menus usually come with better quality but interestingly fast food operators have an average of 47 dishes on their menu, managed pubs and bars 63 and chain restaurant menus 64. These are still quite large numbers. We are told they are slowly increasing as business improves following the end of lockdown.

So we may be seeing a shift in the way dining out is going to be offered; keep your eyes on your local restaurant menus and see what they are cooking for you.

Adrian Leopard     20-09-21

Photo Kayleigh Harrington

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