Fast-Casual Diners Want Customization, Not Complexity

menuAs foodie-ism invades American culture, news has arrived of a new trend — that fast-casual diners are looking for restaurants that excel at one thing, rather than offering dozens of mediocre dishes.

In a recent post, “Huge, Terrible Menus are hurting McDonalds and Olive Garden,” writes, “The days of a restaurant menu that reads more like a chapter book may soon be coming to an end.”

“Fast-casual chains like Chipotle and Shake Shack, which make a small number of items well, are flourishing,” writes “Restaurants that have ballooned their menus in recent years, like McDonald’s and Olive Garden, are suffering.”

Just as we share our vast point of sale experience and expertise with startup owners in order to help them make the best decisions from the very beginning, we at Sintel Systems are happy to share articles, advice and commentary about how tastes are changing the restaurant landscape.

Here are the highlights of the post:

• John Chidsey, former Burger King CEO, said of restaurants with large menu selections, “The thought was if I load up my menu, I’ll drive more people to the doors [but] it just got so complicated in the kitchen, and the accuracy and the quality of what got made suffered.”

• Average menu size peaked at 99.7 items in 2008, and has since been steadily declining. Today the figure is 92.6 items for all restaurants.

• Slimmed-down menus encourage new restaurants to limit offerings, which may be easily customized. Look for more new restaurants to be described as “the Chipotle of” Indian, Greek, Korean food and more. The post pointed to a Washington Post story about Michael Lastoria, the co-owner of &pizza, a restaurant where diners build their own pizzas, who says, “Traditional menus scream fast food.'”

• Compare the 92.6 average menu size for all restaurants to 59.4, the average menu size for newly opened restaurants.

• By 2013, McDonald’s menu grew to 107 items, up from 86 in 2006. In January, McDonald’s executives admitted that the burger chain’s menu had grown too complex, making it hard to serve food as quickly as people expect.

• Starboard Value, an investment firm, recently released a scathing presentation of Olive Garden that quickly went viral on the worldwide web, with complaints about over-use of unwarmed breadsticks and unsalted pasta water. “Starboard argued that slimming down the menus at chains owned by Darden Restaurants, Olive Garden’s parent company, could save $10 million to $15 million a year,” the reports. They added that Starboard also said the complex menu increased the risk of errors and required too much training for cooks and servers.

• Complex menus can also scare people away. One slide of the Starboard presentation quoted an Olive Garden customer, “I thought the menu selection was very large, almost too many options. It is hard to choose when there [are so many] pages to look through.”

• says Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden, defended its new menu in a report, arguing that it offered diners variety, value and convenience.

• “If you’re offering everything, you’re not doing anything specifically well,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, a food research firm. Tristano compared McDonald’s’ more than 100 menu items to California-based In-N-Out Burger, where the menu hovers around just 10 items, including drinks. “You know when you go there you’re getting burger, fries and a drink,” Tristano tells “What a customer wants is to know your story. Why are you in business? What are you known for?”

• One restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory, has managed to buck the trend, but notes the chain’s extensive training is unmatched by its competitors.

• writes that stripping down a menu can give people more choices and points to Five Guys, which although it only has burgers, fries, hot dogs and a few sandwiches on its menu, allows diners to customize their order with toppings like grilled mushrooms and A.1. Sauce.

• The post also notes that Chipotle claims there are 60,000 ways someone could place an order, even though the chain only sells tacos, burritos, burrito bowls and salads.

• According to HuffingtonPost, customization has become so trendy that, in an aim to compete with the Chipotles and Five Guys of the world, McDonald’s may be expanding a test concept for a build-your-own burger joint.

Read the full post here.

For more insights into consumer tastes and restaurant trends, check out our related posts, Restaurant TrendMapper Has Trend Spotting Trending Higher, Follow Food Trends For Your Franchising Future, These Sliding Franchises Must Get Back To The Basics, and Growth Investors Likely To Get In Line For Shake Shack IPO.

Sintel is the only full-service, direct-to-user point of sale provider — no resellers, no middleman. From software development to franchise incubator to ongoing support, part of Sintel’s commitment to our customers and industry is to share information on how to achieve success. Whether you’re a first-time franchise hopeful, a small business owner or an established chain, it’s always smart to stay on top of consumer tastes and restaurant trends.

If you are interested in learning more about Sintel’s point of sale (POS) systems and how our knowledge and support can impact your future success, call us for a complimentary phone consultation.

Sintel Systems is the only direct to end user full-service provider of tailored Point of Sale systems across retail, restaurant and service industries, including frozen yogurt shopspizzeriassushi restaurantscafés and retail stores.

As a single source for business solutions, our experienced, knowledgeable team negotiates the complex POS landscape for you to enable you to find the right POS system for your business and budget. Hardware – Software – Support

Questions or Comments: Contact us 855-POS-SALES

Leave a comment