When To Revise A Coffee Shop Menu: Use Data, Not Emotions

If you have started a coffee shop business you are likely familiar with the constant stream of requests from customers, friends and even family to add or change items on your menu.  But when is it really a smart idea to revise a coffee shop menu?  Many coffee shop business owners get wrapped up in the emotions of these kind of requests and wonder “If I don’t add/change this item, will it hurt my business?”   The most common storyline we observe is a coffee shop opens it’s doors with a focused and strategically planned out menu.  But, after a constant stream of unsolicited feedback the coffee shop owner second guesses themselves and begins to revise the coffee shop menu out of fear.  Before long, the menu board now wraps around all four walls, and is continued onto chalkboards and signs, and now has what seems like hundreds of items to make everyone happy.  The menu has become remarkably huge from fear of displeasing customers… Unfortunately, this situation is all too common, and is very bad for business. As a coffee business owner, you must never allow emotions to dictate your menu offerings.  You need a methodical approach to fine-tuning your menu offerings based on data and research, not gut feelings.  Here is an approach we teach in our Coffee Business Class and our Coffee Shop Manager Training Class that has proven to work very well.

The 80% Rule

  • Allow the menu to run for at least 5 months. Pull your sales reports.  Try to figure out the specific reasons your top menu items are performing well and why your bottom items are performing poorly. Conduct focus groups to find your answers.
  • DO NOT ASSUME ANYTHING!  Sometimes you will find an item is not selling well for a reason that has nothing to do with taste (i.e. Customers could not read the handwriting on the chalkboard menu, or they did not relate with, or understand the name you gave the item.)
  • Do multiple focus groups with different sets of customers across several days or weeks. Create samples of the item(s) in question.  Get feedback and LISTEN!  Don’t defend or try to justify. You only want honest feedback.
  • Do not add, remove or change a menu item unless exactly 80% or more people in your focus groups vote that they want the specific change.

This is called the 80% rule and it is used by some of the most successful restaurants in the world.

Example of a Test:

Let’s say you suspect an item isn’t selling well because it isn’t sweet enough.

  1. Get a sizable group (30+ real customers) and spread the group into smaller groups across several day.
  2. Offer to incentivize participants for participating if necessary.
  3. Create the item the way you normally make it.  Then create a second version of the item that is sweeter.
  4. Without leading your test subjects, ask them which they prefer and why.  You may want to have them to write their answers down and have a rule of silent voting so nobody skews the results with an outspoken opinion.
  5. Tally up the votes.  If 80% or more of the people said they like the sweeter version, make the change to your menu.  If the votes for making the change come in anything less than 80%, you leave it as is.

That is the 80% rule.


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