Don’t Make Me Choose! Why You Should Limit Your Menu

Girl trying to decide between two different cupcakes

One afternoon, returning from a client meeting, I passed a cute little bakery. I suddenly realised I needed cake (as you do). Inside, there was a startling array of cupcakes with every topping imaginable, pies of every filling, cream donuts, chocolate donuts, pistachio get the picture.

My mouth watered; at first. Then it hit me. Indecision. Then confusion. And ultimately frustration

I just wanted a cake. Sweet. Squidgy. One of.  And now I was battling to find 'the' cake in a sea of sticky goodness. What went wrong?

Customers think  they want options, but they don't

It's natural to want to offer our customers every option under the sun.  We want to give them 30 different flavours with 10 filling options and 15 toppings to choose from.  I made this exact mistake I made when I first launched my business.   But here's the thing, customers don't actually want that much choice.  I quickly learned that the majority of my customers just wanted to be able to choose something quickly and easily, and presenting them with all these options was a source of frustration for them.

While we as bakers know there is a limitless world of possibility when it comes to baked goods, the average customer will likely approach you with something like 'Hi, I need a cake please', and will be overwhelmed when presented with 200 different variables.

They want simple. It's well known that whilst choice is good, too much choice can be bad for business. The longer a customer takes to make a decision, the more likely it is that they'll walk away.

The Choice Paradox

Of all places, the concept of the 'Choice Paradox' - the theory that too much choice is a bad thing - came from a jam-selling experiment. Two psychologists, Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, displayed a table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam at a food market, offering a $1 off voucher. On another day, they did the same again, with only 6 varieties and no voucher. Whilst people spent more time looking at the large display, 90% of sales came from the smaller table, as it gave them an easier choice.

You see it everywhere nowadays. That's why we have 'Gold' 'Silver', and 'Bronze' packages for everything ... and if you're selling cakes online, you'll probably find that your featured cake will get more clicks than the sum total of a gallery of 40 cakes.

You Can Still Have Plenty of Variety

The goal here is not to limit your menu to a few boring products, the goal is to make it easier for your customers to choose.  So depending on what you offer, this may not mean cutting your menu but may mean cutting your customization options.

What I recommend is making a menu of 'chosen for you' cakes so people can just point and decide.  For example, instead of asking someone to choose a flavour, filling, frosting, topping, message, colour, etc, have a few set cakes which are already set and decided.  Customers can customize if they want to, but many will take it 'as is' and will be grateful to you for making it an easy process.

Whilst choice overload is a compelling reason to limit your menu, there are also many other reasons why thinning down your offering can improve your business. Here are a few (but not too many!) further reasons why you should limit your menu ...

Easier to market

Having a smaller menu makes it easier for people to see what you have. We can only hold around 7 digits in our brains at a time. Assuming it's the same for cakes, your menu will be easier to process visually if there are fewer items. And quick decisions make fast-flowing queues! Throw out the deadwood; choose your most popular items and sell them.

Easier to change

It's much simpler to swap out one product than a variety of related ones. Perhaps you've run out of that yummy almond paste for your croissants. If you usually offer almond-filled croissants with pistachio, chocolate or salted caramel topping, all of these are affected. One less cake type for the day has less impact than a whole range of the same variety.

A limited menu cuts your costs

The biggest difference from a limited menu will be noticed where it matters most- in your bottom line. Fewer options mean fewer ingredients and a greater volume of those ingredients - and bulk buying is always good on the pocket! Limiting your menu can save money and increase your profit margin. You might then choose to pass some of that on to your customers to make you more competitive. Win/win.

Less mess, less stress in the kitchen

Your baking time and processes will benefit if you have less variety. Removing the 'noise' of 10 different types of cake, and keeping only the most popular ones will cut down the chaos, and improve efficiency. It will also make inventories a happier Monday morning routine.

More consistency

When I ran a kitchen, I started with a huge menu - I wanted to give my customers everything they could think of. In time, I realized two things very quickly. 1. People generally only chose from around 10 items, and 2. My staff were all trying to learn about 40 types of cakes! When I reduced my menu, I could easily train everyone how to make every cake we offered. With a clear baking process, all cakes were now consistent, and if someone was off sick, the same perfect cakes appeared in the counter. Happy customers.

'New' stands out more

Following on from my point of fewer cakes being easier to market, the less you have, the more something different 'pops'. If you have new featured bakes or seasonal products, customers will be much more likely to notice what's new if your regular menu isn't a sea of options.  (See my tips below on promoting specialty cakes)

How to choose your Staple Products and Specials, and Sell them

To help you make the most of our Jam-selling shrinks’ discovery, here’s a quick guide on how to limit your cake menu ...

Best Sellers
  • Decide on your top bakery products (the ones that sell the most) These are your staple products.
  • Of these, choose those with the best profit margin (the ones that make the most) These should be most prominent in your counter.
  • Create a weekly planner with special offers around these products. You can afford to lose a cent or two in exchange for volume.
Specialty/Feature Cakes
  • Choose a few 'feature' bakery products (eg., creative cakes/unusual cakes) These are not sold every day, and will be highlighted separately to give controlled variety
  • Plan ahead with a weekly/monthly 'feature' cake list
  • Rewrite menus and restock your counter with your top sellers and special offers
  • Promote your feature cake separately (easy to remove and replace)

Give them what they  want

Hopefully, this will help you to limit your menu in a way that benefits both you and your customers. Remember, customers have enough decisions to make in their day-to-day lives, and a cake should be a place of joy and indulgence, free from options paralysis! It will be a case of trial and error, in terms of what menu works best for you, but the concept of choice overload should not be ignored. Try it out and tweak as you go along; your menu is a ‘living document’, always open to change as fads, seasons and events influence what sweet treats people want.

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