Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Being All Things To All People

The restaurant industry is massively competitive and there is an argument that for restaurants to capture as large a share as possible of the market they should try to cater to everyone.  In other words, being all things to all people. But does it work? Either for the restaurant or the customer?

I used to run a restaurant on Spain’s Costa Blanca, an incredibly competitive market but also a very fickle one.  Our restaurant was on a strip of bars and restaurants all geared to attracting tourists.  One of the restaurants near us was run by some Indian lads but they did not stop at Indian food. They had a long, rambling menu that included pizza, steak, fajitas and fish and chips, to name a few. 

Being All Things To All People

Unfortunately, in my opinion, they had no identity and didn’t cook anything well.  As you will know every nationality wants something different to eat and have very different palates. So as a tourist restaurant should you create a menu that caters to every possible taste in the hope that you will corner the market.  My firm belief is no, but I understand why restaurants sometimes have menus running into multiple pages.

Twenty-page menu
I was recently talking to a restaurant in Dubai wanting to increase their business who’s menu ran to twenty pages. My first question to them was can you cut the menu, to which the reply was maybe to fifteen pages. 

Being All Things To All People

I was recently talking to a restaurant in Dubai wanting to increase their business who’s menu ran to twenty pages. My first question to them was can you cut the menu, to which the reply was maybe to fifteen pages.  Their rationale was that Dubai is a tourist hub with many nationalities and that if they were to compete they had to do as every other restaurant and offer everything. 

Looking at this as a restaurateur I am horrified.  Imagine the wastage for a restaurant running at about 25% occupancy with a 20 page menu.  The food percentage will be so low as to attract the interest of the tax office.  My advice is always to have a shorter menu that is balanced with a variety of quality dishes that you will actually sell.  Keep the fluff away! 

By changing a menu on a regular basis you will also keep your loyal customers interested, not to mention the kitchen crew.  A shorter menu is obviously going to help with stock holding, stock turnover, gross profit and freshness of stock.  If you really feel that you have to cater to everyone, what about a specials board with dishes from around the world that changes daily?

As a customer I am also equally dubious about the restaurant that wants to be all things to all people.  Firstly, I get bored reading through pages of menu descriptions.  Maybe I have a  low attention span but I am not alone.  Secondly, I wonder how any of those dishes can be fresh.  Is anyone cooking using fresh ingredients or is all the stock in the freezer?  And finally, surely there are some dishes on that long menu that do not sell as well as others. What is lurking at the back of the fridge?

I spend a lot of time reading menus when I am out.  For me the restaurants that I would choose have a short well balanced menu.  It is clear to see that certain ingredients have been used elsewhere in different dishes and that there is someone who has put some thought and love into the creation of the menu.  It follows that there is a good chance that the same thought and love will go into the cooking. In short, do what you do and do it well.

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Dave Winteridge
I am a restaurateur in the South of France but originally from Great Britain. I have spent around 30 years in the hospitality industry and over the past 12 years I have opened restaurants in Spain and France. I am a keen skier, living in the Pyrenees, and ideally for the future I would like to spend less time at the stove and more time at the keyboard.



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