Can A Small Menu Save A Big Chain?

With large chains like Chili’s are slashing their menus (by 40%) to reclaim their identity and market position, many restaurants are beginning to take a closer look at their menus too.

What’s in a menu? Only a restaurant’s brand identity.

What you serve becomes who you are, no matter how much time and energy you’ve put into choosing and developing colors, fonts, and shapes, your logo, your website, and other branding collateral. There may be many things your customers will remember about your restaurant, but among them, the quality of food you serve will always take the cake.

Like Chili’s, some restaurants have attempted to appeal to everyone instead of focusing on their core demographic. This eventually led to considerable menu bloat, making it difficult for chefs to keep up with varying orders.

Towards the end of last year, Ruby Tuesday also decided to cut 30% of its menu.

This begs an important question – can smaller menus save big chains?

Bar & Grill Chains Struggle To Find Their Footing In The Market

Both Chili’s and Ruby Tuesday have been suffering a steady decline. Per Nation’s Restaurant News, Chili’s same-store sales fell 2.1% in its 2017 fiscal year ending June 28. Traffic in that year fell by 5.8% and 3.7% in the previous year.

Ruby Tuesday has suffered declining sales in the last decade and even closed more than 100 locations last year. Its average volume is now equivalent to Taco Bell.

If that wasn’t enough, Applebee’s same-store sales have also been down this past year, and TGI Fridays has also seen a 15% volume drop from 2014 through 2016.

Even Dunkin’ Donuts is experimenting with a reduced menu, and Noodles & Company also cut down its menu last year.

The Problem With Bloated Menus

It’s not unusual for casual dining restaurants to end up with bloated menus over time. The problem is that as they look to generate more sales, they keep adding new items to try to satisfy everyone instead of catering to their core audience. It was thought that this would broaden their appeal instead of limiting it.

The issue with bloated menus is that it can put a burden on the kitchen staff, resulting in slower service and oftentimes a marked drop in quality.

Another issue – which was hinted at in the introduction – is that bigger menus cause companies to lose their unique identity. It has become increasingly harder to tell one bar and grill chain apart from another because they all essentially serve the same menu items.

A smaller menu can improve efficiency and quality. It can help a restaurant tighten up its focus, cut costs, and hopefully reclaim its identity.

Will Smaller Menus Save Big Chains?

There are good reasons to reduce the size of your menu, especially if you’re losing your identity among your target customers.

But this may not immediately solve all your problems because you still need to re-engage former customers. They won’t know you’ve made any changes unless they visit your place of business again and see that your service has improved, and your food is of better quality.

Only time will tell if casual bar and grill chains can recover their former glory.


When it comes to saving a chain, it isn’t just about the menu, though this certainly plays an important part. One of the easiest ways for a restaurant to cut overhead is by reducing its menu, making it a go-to strategy for those struggling.

Restaurants also need to dig deeper into their target demographics, consider their behavior, and find better ways to market themselves. With people making more health- and wallet-conscious choices, it’s important to look at how to appeal to today’s consumer in the most effective way possible.