Smaller, simpler and so on-trend
20 June, 2012
Less is more is the current motto for menu-planners, but will it last?, asks Mike Palmer
John Kunkel, CEO of Miami-based operator 50 Eggs, smiled as he chopped three of the top five sellers from his latest award-winning restaurant, Yardbird. Brave menu development, but the dishes aren’t being lost, rather they’re moving to a new concept named Swine opening in the autumn.
At the outset Yardbird was seen as a farm-fresh, Southern-cooking concept focusing on poultry, complemented by the usual must-have ribs and pork dishes. With queues out of the door, you would be forgiven for thinking that the team were ready to roll out the concept. But instead the menus are being pared back and Yardbird is about to be joined by sister restaurant Swine, a heritage-breed hog specialist that will take the pork dishes, allowing both concepts to specialise.
50 Eggs is not alone. Along the US East Coast, and now increasingly the UK, the number of restaurants featuring smaller, more focused menus are increasing. The same can be said for wine lists.
In London a number of operators are marketing the lack of dishes as an upside and it seems they might be onto something. Burger and Lobster from the Goodman’s team has been roundly praised since it opened in December, you can probably guess the menu.
On-message chef Mark Hix followed in May with The Tramshed in Shoreditch serving chicken and steak. From Meatballs in Clerkenwell, L’Entrecote in Marylebone (with its one dish repertoire—steak) to the much blogged forthcoming opening of Bubbledogs in Fitzrovia (ex Ledbury chef James Knappett’s hotdog and champagne venture), small-menu and single-dish restaurants are on the rise.
The trend is most evident in New York where the queues would suggest that the locals approve. Here in the UK it’s coming from the massive growth in street food, where the limited selection is a necessity allowing operators to establish themselves as experts in their field. People are beginning to get a taste for it, along with a redefinition of the acceptable amount of time between ordering and eating.
There’s little doubt that such a strategy comes with productivity benefits and allows the operator to master the selection. There’s also some evidence to suggest that the customer can prefer simpler dining with fewer choices to make. On the other hand, there won’t be too many surprises when the menu arrives.
Either way, with the current buzz around simpler formats operators would be well served to keep an eye on how this trend plays out.
Mike Palmer is the founder of menu and concept development consultancy Lost in Catering. Lostincatering.com.