Breaking the menu

Would you go into a Mercedes showroom and ask for a car and a half? The answer is a firm ‘No’, more because it is impossible and impracticable for the vendor to satisfy your request, than it is improbable. The same logic applies to a television set, a cellphone, a t-shirt, a pair of running shoes, bar of soap, a can of soda, a bag of chips, even a pepperoni pizza. All of these items are not just designed to be sold in one piece (e.g. a car) or go together (e.g. a pair of running shoes), it makes no practicable sense for the customer to get just 50% more of that commodity. A restaurant menu is almost always built according to this fundamental law.

There are situations, however, when the law craves to break itself.

I walked into a renowned Chinese restaurant the other day and picked up the menu card for take-away food. In the mood for some delicious ‘dim sum‘, I asked the waiter how many of the dumplings would be included in one plate. He said that six would be the number. With a family of four, ‘six’ would obviously have been an odd figure, so I inquired if he could get me eight instead, and I would pay whatever the charge might be for the extra two pieces. He said that it “cannot be done”, more so because nobody had asked such a thing before, and if I wanted more than six pieces then I would have to pay for two plates.

More than six dumplings, being made one piece at a time, shouldn’t have mattered. It was both practicable and possible. I realized that the issue wasn’t about the dumplings at all. It was about a menu which was fixed by the management and one that everybody else was sticking to without any thought given its contents and how they’re structured in the menu. Eventually, I purchased one plate, and in doing so the restaurant lost the revenue for two dumplings. It might not seem a lot, but a loss is a loss and things accumulate in the long run.

Such situations are an exception rather than a rule, but when money is involved, exceptions matter. Does your product business too suffer from the rigidness of your ‘menu’? If there have been seemingly awkward questions about the same raised by your customers in the past, it might be a good idea to look into the structure of your product list and probably educate the people who are on the front-line in representing your business, i.e. the advertisers and the salesmen.

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3 thoughts on “Breaking the menu

  1. Whilst I agree with you point – if the dumplings were made the night before, and they sold you two extra out of a 6 portion, they would be left with 4 dumplings at the end of the day and the loss of revenue for them.

    • True, if that was the case. As a matter of fact, some restaurants do start preparing for a few of their top-selling items the night before, at least mixing the basic ingredients, and maybe keeping the dough ready. But its not a convincing argument, on two counts.

      First, restaurants have it in them to scale up their food if there is a heavy requirement, or if there’s a spontaneous celebration and everyone orders the same dish, that too a favorite dish at a Chinese restaurant like dumplings. Second, the lower the restaurant (quality + price wise), the more willing it is to break the shackles of a fixed menu. As the stakes increase and the restaurant gets bigger and more popular, rigidity sneaks in through the back door in the form of standardization. Some discipline is good, no doubt, but then you should be able to think on your feet and be flexible if need be, especially in a competitive environment. The same applies for product companies and small businesses.

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