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  • Writer's pictureAlex Gough

How broad should my menu be?

Updated: Jun 1, 2018

Less is more.

When you start up a new coffee van business, your main focus should be obvious: sell coffee! However, the excitement of running a new business can often lead to a habit of overstocking the van with more products than you actually need.

Too often, I see a new coffee van operator spruiking a huge range of products - every kind of flavoured syrup, a massive range of snacks, every energy protein ball thing you can imagine, cookies, half a dozen types of cold drink, and then some. All I think of is "they must spend hours ordering and re-stocking!".

What you need to remember, every time you add a new product to your menu, is that you are now accountable for that product. You must have it. If you had it once, and someone bought it, then you must have it again. If not, you fail the all-important "consistency test". (See my Consistency is Key article for more info).

Yet with every new product you stock, you aren't just simply increasing your revenue stream, and therefore your bottom line. What you're actually doing is making more work for yourself. Because with every new product on your menu, that's one extra product you need to re-order each week; it's one extra product you need to find space in your van to store, as well as in your storeroom/warehouse/garage; and it also gives your customer more choice, which can often translate to making your customer take longer to order. What I'm saying is, you might just be creating more problems than you need with that extra product.

Here's an example.

Lets say you sell the three most common coffee van syrup flavours: Caramel, Vanilla and Hazelnut. Across all three of these flavours, you get say 30 orders per day. Things are ticking along nicely. The three bottles fit nicely in your workspace, and don't take up too much room in your garage. One day, Jenny, a regular Caramel customer, asks if you stock "Macadamia" syrup. You've had one or two people ask for this in the past, and you've always said "sorry, no can do". This time, however, you say "No, but I'll have some next week!".

When you get home, you call your supplier, ask if they stock Macadamia syrup (they do), and order a bottle for next week. Actually, better make it 2 bottles. You fork out the expected $12 per bottle, and wait for it to arrive. You make a new space on your storage shelf in the garage for the new syrup, and then figure out where to store it in the van. When it arrives, it doesn't fit in your syrup rack, so you shift things around in your under the counter drawer to make space for it there. When Jenny comes back next week, you excitedly explain that you now have Macadamia and you make her one - much to her delight. Jenny keeps ordering the Macadamia. You advertise it, and sure, a few extra customers convert from their usual syrup flavour to Macadamia. Every time a new customer pops in and asks "do you stock syrup flavours?", you explain that you have FOUR syrup flavours, and wait for them to um and ahh before they order. Most go for one of your three main ones. The occasional one asks for Macadamia. And every time you pour a Macadamia latte, you think to yourself, "Glad I got this on board!".

But lets stop and think here - what have you really gained. Your business didn't increase because you had Macadamia on your menu. You didn't pull in any extra new customers, or at least, none that came to your van only because you had the Macadamia. Rather, you just transferred a few regular syrup drinkers from one flavour to another. "Just keeping the customer happy", you argue. But really, were they unhappy before? You still gave them an awesome cup of coffee, and a syrup flavour they no doubt enjoyed (if they were a regular before, you were obviously doing something right).

And lets think about the impact on you. Despite still selling lots of Caramel, Hazelnut and Vanilla, you now also have to worry about Macadamia, which takes weeks to get through a single bottle. That brings with it all kinds of cleaning and hygiene-related issues (don't get me started on having to clean up syrup spillages). You also sell so little of it, you only need to order it every four or five weeks, and then, because you aren't used to ordering it, you forget! Really, life was easier before you had Macadamia in your life. If you re-wind back to the day Jenny asks for it, and say, "Sorry Jenny, I can't fit it in the van, but maybe try Vanilla or Hazelnut today!". Jenny orders Vanilla, enjoys it, and life goes on - simply.

This is example I've given is a non-perishable. Or at least, a "takes a while to perish"- type product, thanks to all the sugar. So multiply this advice for any "perishable" product, like a new type of muffin, a new flavour of biccy, or an extra line of meat pies, tenfold!

Less is more.

Don't take this to mean you can't add products to your menu, or that I think it's a bad idea. Definitely not! Sometimes a new product will add a huge amount to your bottom line! All I'm saying is, for every product you add, make sure you really believe it will add a lot to your business. If it's only going to add time and effort at your end, and if your customers are happy with what you've got, stick to what you've got! Its also far easier to ADD products to your menu once you are certain they are a go-er, rather than TAKE THEM OFF the menu when they aren't selling!

And remember. You're the gun barista. You're the guru. If you think you're menu is right, chances are, your customers will too.


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