When Less really is More

I’ve been doing some home renovations recently, which meant that my kitchen was out of action for several weeks, giving me an excuse to visit a number of local restaurants for the first time. This experience made me realise that as with most other things in life, when it comes to restaurant menus, less is definitely more – the fewer the items, and the simpler the design, the more likely I will enjoy the meal.

At the risk of drawing a very long bow, I see there is a lesson here for anyone involved in product development, content marketing, or service-based solutions: the more choice we lavish on our customers, the more likely we are to confuse or overwhelm them, and ultimately disappoint or even lose them as customers.

As consumers, we are increasingly accustomed to having multiple and seemingly endless choices. While this can make for healthy competition (as long as it can support and sustain market efficiencies), sometimes the fewer options we have the more invested we are in our decisions.

In the case of a restaurant menu, having fewer choices is actually a good thing – either because we are more likely to think carefully before ordering, or because we are being guided to choose between items that have been purposely selected and assembled (curated?) by the chef. Plus, if we make a wrong or poor decision, there may be less to choose from the next time!

So, I found I really appreciated menus that had only 2-3 entrees, no more than 4 main dishes, and a discrete dessert selection. (OK, so the wine list can know no bounds….) Also, if the maitre d’ or waiters have to spend too much time explaining the menu structure, then it tells me more often than not that the restaurant hasn’t got it right.

When you think about it, the notion of “less is more” makes complete sense in this context:

  • If a restaurant has too many items, then not all of them can be of equal quality – how can the kitchen specialise in such a wide variety of dishes?
  • The best ingredients are usually those in season, and preferably locally sourced – which should be a natural constraint on the menu selection
  • Faced with limited choices, there is actually less risk of “menu anxiety” – whereas, agonising over a long list of dishes, or spending time ploughing through an over-elaborate menu can actually diminish the appetite…

I would also be more willing to let the chef decide for me, because a more focused menu should mean that the restaurant is more able to play to its strengths – this concept of the chef as curator should sit at the heart of product portfolios, content selection strategies and customer service options, while still making the customer still feel they have made an informed choice or purchasing decision.

Over the years, I have had the privilege to dine out in major cities and tourist destinations around the world. Some of the most memorable dining experiences I have had usually come down to a specific dish served in a particular restaurant – local speciality, seasonal ingredient, signature recipe, etc. – to which I have often gone back for more because it created such a lasting impression first time around, and because I know my choice will never fail to disappoint. (Of course, there is also the Proustian echo of associating food with a significant time or place….but let’s not over complicate the theory.)

If only everything else could be as reassuringly simple and consistent as a well-designed menu and a well-prepared meal.

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