Old pho shop versus new pho shop menus
Have a question hopefully someone has good explanation. Have you ever noticed in older type pho restaurants, there are like 10-20 different pho items on the menu sometime even more, while in newer restaurants that opened maybe in the last few years, their menus are a lot simpler. Some that serve pho/Chipotle style actually have very small menu (comparatively) but you can get pretty much the same combnation such as beefballs, tripe, tendon or anything else if you want. Just wonderin...
More than half the pho places near me have these huge menus with 100s of items. The pho section took a page and a half, sometime 2 pages if you add kid sizes. It seems they count each addition of things (like add tendon or add meatballs) a different pho dish. To me it's all just beef pho or chicken pho, then choose what meat you want in your bowl. Simpler that way.
Agree with this. I normally just order by the number as it's easier to remember if I go to the same place. But I think it's better to know what's in the bowl you're ordering so you can order the same thing in a different pho place. If your menu is 25-30 years old then it's time to update pho sho.
I think back then (the late 70's to 80's) it was helpful for unfamiliar customers to just order by numbers. Just point to number on the menu. But I agree with you. Time has changed now, and non-Viet customers are very knowledgeable now, so it's time to modernize.
By the way, in my consulting work, I try to persuade new owners (often inexperienced to the business) to only use numbered menu items where appropriate and helpful, like for a combo or multi-item specials. Great question OP.
I can see the point of your question, though there are so many misconceptions out there that should be corrected. You'd want to consider the following:
1. There are many Viet and pho restaurants right in the middle of many little saigons in north america that still have this old style menu. These restaurants are definitely not in areas where customers are not familiar with Viet food. They may have a reason (rightly or wrongly) to start this way 30-40 years ago, but the fact is they never care to update. So if we take a snapshot in time right now, the "not familiar" statement is not quite correct.
2. If an operator intends to offer huge menu now intending to simplfy it later, then a) when is considered a proper time that customers are familiar enough to make the change, and b) more importantly, will the owner be willing to change (time, money required) plus risking customer confusion.
3. An operator (or soon-to-be operator) should do what they think best for their business in their market. If they're going to base their whole business plan on what the market tells them (and not imitating what other restaurants are doing) then they should do their own market analysis to confirm or verify the observation. I did my own analysis and the results were more than eye-opening. In my opinion, a good market analysis should include at least a few thousands of truly random samples in order to correctly identify a trend or confirm an observation. Anything outside of this is not a wild guess.
4. It all comes down to how you want to run your business. If a customer is not familiar with pho, then I would explain to him/her that pho is a popular Vietnamese rice noodle in beef or chicken broth, and they have a choice of protein and vegetarian toppings. Then give more detail of the toppings as needed. Breaking it out to pho with rare steak, pho with well done flank, pho with well done brisket, pho with rare steak and well done brisket, pho with rare steak and well done brisket and well done flank, pho with beefballs, pho with beefballs and rare steak, pho with beefballs and rare steak and well done brisket and well flank, etc. (phew... are we there yet?) is not going to help those unfamiliar with Vietnamese food. In fact it may give new newcomers the wrong impression that Viet food is too complex, or that Viet people actually consider different toppings as making a totally different dish, which is totally wrong.
Sorry for the ranty reply but I think my points are made. I'll stop here.
@katbho: I think a restaurant with good concept and good execution can do great in many small-medium-large cities. Quick anecdote:
I had run a pho restaurant in Missoula MT, a small city in Montana. Read about its demographic here: https://datausa.io/profile/geo/missoula-mt/#demographics
To summarize, as of 2017:
Hispanic or Latino: 3.14%
Two or more races: 2.76%
American Indian & Alaska Native: 2.35%
Black or African American: 0.469%
Other Races: 0.0508%
Missoula is a small town, most definitely white and non-Asians. I can tell you that the people of Missoula are as sophisticated and understanding of both their local goings on and the bigger world around them as any modern metros. While they do not have good selection of ethnic foods in the city, Missoulians know and appreciate good food as people in any other place, first as curiosity, then as a favorite, IF it is good food and the restaurateur knows local taste and preferences. But this is true anywhere you go.
All that is meant to say that, with the world wide web aka the Internet, it's not likely that there's a huge mass of people somewhere who do not know about Viet food, or ramen or Hawaiian poke. There will always be those who don't care (whom you can't do much about), those who don't know but do really want to try (and can be impressed enough that they come back), and those who already know and can't wait to try (whom you definitely want to impress that they will come back). So know your market and pick your battle because you can't lump all people who live in a geographic area into one single group that acts with only one behavior.
I'm in my mid 30's so people would categorize me as a millennial. I'm not in restaurant business but from a customer's point of view I find your comments spot on. Also just want to add that it's up to the restaurant to offer foods and prices that the people want to pay to eat, and successfully sell their concept to the locals.
With my marketing background, I would say that a business MUST/SHOULD stay up with market trends and understand customer behaviors, and target groups of customers that will bring sales to the restaurant. It's 2019 and all indications are pointing towards simple, convenient, fresh, affordable, healthy, sustainable, etc. as key characteristics of a successful food service business. While a restaurant doesn't necessarily have to include all of these in their brand, whichever attributes they choose should apply not only to the food they serve but also to all aspects of the business.
Lastly with respect to @katbho 's question, I would say if you open your business in an area not familiar with your products, then education is a big part of your initial focus and effort. I do not have the right answer, but I know if I were to open a burger shop where there is lack of knowledge of my product, then I would concentrate on marketing/education, plus making my product the best it can be to impress customers, and keep it simple for both them and you.
Wow thanks for all the thoughful replies. Personally I prefer the more modern and simpler menu designs. They're easier for newbies to figure out I think, plus are more pleasant to look at. For me though, like somebody said, I know what I always want so don't really remember the last time I actually really looked at a pho menu.
When you have to number your menu items in sequential order, you should know you have too many items/unmanageably large menu. Easy as that. It's always better to have a simple menu that customers can understand and make quicker choice.
Hehe I'm Vietnamese so I know what I want and just order it.
Seriously though, I'd be very interested in seeing sales numbers of items actually selling versus those not selling but still stay on the menu for 30 years!!! lol I bet there are dishes in this no selling category, as old as the menu look itself!
Same here. I think new Viet/pho restaurants should elevate Viet food/pho to levels expected by customers of this century. ? I look at the new Korean and ramen restaurants just opened and all look pretty modern, clean with very nicely designed and easy to understand menus. Viet people can do this too, or maybe we don't know how?
I vote for new simpler design menu. At least I know it's clean. Has anyone noticed how old and dirty those laminated menus are? YUUCCCKKK. Talk about bacteria city! ?I bet they rarely clean AND sanitize them.
In all seriousness I think @katbho does have a valid question, though the best way to approach and solve the unfamiliarity problem is through good marketing which should incorporate some good and creative amount of education. Coming from finance and marketing background I'd say that a good business plan should be created and market analysis performed to determine feasibility of the new business concept at a new location.
Personal experience here: I am one of those people who are very aware of my sourroundings as a natural tendency. Everytime I go out for pho, I like to check out what people eat. On any given busy night in a restaurant that has 100 items on their menu, my observation is that there is no way that even 30% of items on the menu are being ordered. The majority of customers eat pho or maybe a few well known things that the restaurant is known for. The other 70%? Nobody ever touches them. Begs the question of why keep offering so many things that don't sell.