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How to Cook Up a Minimal Viable Menu that Delivers

So you've got delivery operations in order. Whether you’re using your own drivers, third-party delivery, or direct delivery services like Sauce, you’re really not going far until you have a dedicated, streamlined menu specifically earmarked for off-premise dining.

Your online menus should coordinate with your full-serve menu to keep channel design flowing seamlessly, however there are key points to consider when choosing the actual content of your online menu.

Step one: Create a Minimum Viable Menu

During the early days of the pandemic, when restaurants were tasked to suddenly pivot to delivery, the Minimum Viable Menu, a condensed version of a full-scale menu, was born, and has unwittingly become an industry standard. Using tactics like *menu engineering, a Minimum Viable Menu is a carefully thought-out, scaled-down menu that only contains items that are popular and profitable at the same time. Other important considerations are deliverability and availability. Not all profitable, popular items are viable for delivery, and because of possible supply chain shortages, not every item is guaranteed to be available. To save yourself and your staff headaches, pare down your menu to only those items that meet these important criteria:





The goal of a MVM is to create a menu that eliminates items that do not meet these four criteria, and entices customers to order. Shifting to a leaner and smaller menu of options not only increases customer satisfaction by consistently offering your proven winners and decreasing the dreaded “out of stock” response, but the trimmed-down menu allows restaurants to operate more efficiently and ultimately, more profitably.

The fact is, no matter how much your in-house diners rave about an item, that doesn’t mean that item will translate well to your digital menu. Some of your highest rated dine-in items simply don’t travel well. Others require expensive ingredients that spoil quickly if they go un-ordered, or contain ingredients currently difficult to source because of shortages.

Take frozen desserts as an example. Maybe they’re one of your hottest sellers in the summer months, but delivering a melted version of a frozen treat is not going to spur great ratings on Yelp. If your delivery set-up is not equipped to assure that the item travels well, this previously proven winner could quickly become a loser, so leave it off the menu, even if it breaks your heart to do so.

How to Create a Minimum Viable Menu: Checklist

List all of your menu items.

Check items that are top-performers. Keep in mind this could change with seasons

Check the items that are most cost-effective/profitable.

Next, check the items for which inventory is easily accessible or that you already have in plentiful supply.

Identify which dishes are easy to package for delivery and are travel-friendly.

Now, take every time for which all four boxes are checked off and compile a list in order of profitability and popularity. These are your “star” items.

Choose the top 10 to 15 items that check off all four boxes. (this can be calculated in detail with a menu engineering analysis).

Stars, Dogs, Plow Horses, and Puzzles

Stars, dogs, plow horses, and puzzles are four words that also help restaurant owners design menus and analyze which items should stay, which should go, and which need a little tweaking.

In restaurant lingo, stars are the items that are simultaneously reaping high margins and are highly popular. Stars include items like omelets and pasta dishes that are inexpensive to make, but beloved enough to warrant elevated prices.

Dogs, the opposite of stars, are low-margin, and unpopular.

Plow horses are menu items that are low-margin, but high-popularity. As the name suggests, it is the intent that these items will get customers in the door and while they’re there, they’ll order more profitable items from the menu.

Puzzles are the highest-margin, least popular items on the menu.

While you may already know which items on your full-scale menu fall into these categories, the breakdown might change when you analyze your online delivery menu. Remember factors like deliverability may not have been taken into consideration when you designed your original menu, so it’s critical to reconsider which items are your delivery stars, and which should be placed in the doghouse and eliminated from the menu.

By Eileen Strauss



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