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Why Limited Menus May Be The Future Franchisees Want in a Post-COVID World

Many franchisees are hoping to make the efficiencies gained during COVID-19 a permanent reality.

Although states are slowly starting to reopen, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing and continues to have a huge impact on the food industry. From contributing to delays in the food supply to putting strain on restaurants with social distancing restrictions, QSR and fast casual franchise brands are continuing to struggle under the weight of a world battling coronavirus. Now, according to a new report from Business Insider, experts say that consumers should be prepared for restaurant prices to go up and menus to change as businesses grapple with higher prices from suppliers and other expenses. 

In late March, the QSR giant McDonald’s temporarily pulled its all-day breakfast menu and pared down its offerings to include only its most popular menu items to keep U.S. operations nimble amid the economic pressure of COVID-19. The streamlined menu revealed other surprising benefits, with many franchisees seeing improved drive-thru efficiencies and sales across the country.

In fact, the National Owners Association, McDonald's independent franchisee advocacy group, is pushing for the corporate team to retain the chain's limited menu, even as restaurants begin to reopen, according to Nation's Restaurant News

In addition to increased sales and efficiencies, many franchise brands are hoping to cut down on waste during the shutdown by scaling back on inventory and creating menu items that cross-utilize more ingredients. 

Jason Valentine, CEO of Zoup Eatery, told Restaurant Business Online that the brand is “doubling down on our core products” and “speeding up menu development around that niche.” The soup franchise’s broths are the base for grain bowls, broth bowls and soups — comfort foods that are currently doing well with takeout and delivery customers self-isolating at home. The broths also sell well on the retail side, and Valentine plans to expand the varieties offered on grocery shelves as branded packaged foods. This would not only create lower operational costs for franchisees, but could create an alternate revenue stream.

There are several other ways to cut down on menu costs without sacrificing quality or the customer experience — for example, by revamping the menu with less-complicated dishes that require fewer of the kitchen staff to be present in the preparation. 

Moving forward, there is a good chance that these limited menus are going to stick around in the foodservice industry. “The limited menu and ease of operations are allowing our teams to focus and provide blazing-fast service,” Blake Casper, Mcdonald’s National Owners Association president, told NAO members last week. “We are convinced. Keeping our menus simplified is your NOA’s number one priority.”

It makes sense that these limited menus are especially appealing to franchisees. In addition to lower costs, these efficiencies allow franchise owners to create the best possible customer experience while simplifying operations in kitchens and for crews during the pandemic. Now, franchisors are paying attention. 

“We are partnering closely with our franchisees to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on restaurant operations and evaluate the best path forward for our national menu,” McDonald’s told Nation’s Restaurant News. 

Of course, permanently removing its all-day breakfast, even just in select markets, would be a drastic strategy change for McDonald's. The company launched the menu in 2015, and it's been a significant growth driver for the chain over the past five years. Still, McDonald's already began to slowly give operators more control over the breakfast daypart last summer, allowing franchisees to choose which items to include on the all-day menu and for what hours. Now that the industry’s "breakfast wars" have been brought to halt by COVID-19, it would make sense for McDonald's to value speed at the drive-thru over maintaining an extensive breakfast menu. 

As market trends continue to change, many are accepting that certain industries will never be the same. For restaurants, smaller menus and increased efficiencies may be the new normal. Although this may not be the best news for customers who may be missing out on their favorite menu items, it is important to be understanding and respectful of any changes that restaurants have to make during these extremely difficult times.