Developing a menu is no small matter for any restaurant.


Your menu is essentially your identity. It tells your customers what kind of restaurant you are, and what kind of food they can expect to find at your place of business.

A lack of originality in the marketplace makes it easy for people to label you “just another restaurant”. But if you strive for too much inventiveness, you could be written off as a “novelty” or “weird” restaurant.

If that wasn’t enough, you must also consider the size of your menu. How many items should it contain? What’s a good number based on what your customers have come to expect from you? What about profitability?

In September, Chili’s made the decision to slash 50 items, or 40% of its menu. What was behind this decision?

Chili’s Losing Its Identity

One of the reasons Chili’s decided to reduce its menu is because they recognized it was becoming too much like other restaurants out there.

Over the years, Chili’s expanded its menu to cater to all types of customers. They felt this move ultimately made their reputation increasingly fuzzier.

Their goal now is to separate themselves from the pack. In recent years, Chili’s has been lumped in with restaurants like Applebee’s and TGIFridays. In many ways, the casual dining experience has become the same across different brands.

Chili’s plans to streamline and focus on burgers, ribs, and quesadillas – items their customers often return for. A smaller menu could also mean reduced overhead for the chain and less stress for their kitchen staff. They also plan to increase serving sizes. In addition, it should free them up to focus on a more efficient customer experience. Some experts do not believe this to be a wise move, as consumers move towards healthier options in their daily dining.

Chili’s has been experiencing its fair share of challenges. Per MarketWatch, the restaurant industry has been in a slump, recently recording its sixth consecutive quarter of traffic declines. Traffic at casual dining restaurants is down 3% for the year ending June 2017. Nevertheless, Chili’s hope is that they can reclaim their former success by focusing on what makes them unique.

Should I Make Changes To My Restaurant’s Menu?

As you’ve already seen, the importance of your menu cannot be denied. A bloated menu could end up costing you a lot of money and stress. Plus, it plays a vital part in your identity. People associate your brand with the food you serve.

The Pareto principle or 80-20 rule is almost certainly at work at any restaurant. And yet, the reason many restaurants offer a bigger selection comes down to the fact that some items are wanted by the customer, some are unique specialty items, and some are more profitable than others.

But it is worth looking at what 20% of items are producing 80% of the results. This isn’t to suggest that you should slash 80% of your menu. But perhaps there is some bloat that you could get under control Maybe there are a few dishes that don’t need to be part of your offering anymore.

If you are happy with the results you’re getting, there’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken. But if you believe it may be possible to boost your business by eliminating certain dishes from your menu, it’s a prospect worth exploring.

Final Thoughts

Chili’s is responding to ongoing challenges in the marketplace. Will it find relevance and success again? Only time will tell.

But there is something every business owner can learn from Chili’s example. Stay true to your identity, and don’t try to be everything to everyone. Find your niche, and look for ways to serve that niche with every bit of enthusiasm you can muster.