The Disturbing Truth About The Simple Restaurant Menu Trend

It takes a lot more to be a chef than being able to master delicate soufflés and tender beef Wellingtons. To run a restaurant involves creativity in the kitchen and exemplary culinary skills no doubt, but it also requires strategizing, managing, and having solutions for unprecedented problems that come with running a restaurant.

When faced with labor shortages last year, chefs and owners increased wages and offered attractive benefits to recruit new workers. Record high inflation and a dip in customer spending this year had restaurants scrambling to strike a balance between hiking prices to cover rising costs and offering appealing incentives to get customers back through the doors. The pandemic presented the ultimate challenge as chefs swapped gastronomy for comfort food and dine-in service for meal kit deliveries (via Forbes).

As the restaurant industry continues to be troubled, restaurants are coming up with another solution to deal with rising costs and labor shortages. According to Grub Street, restaurants are simplifying their menus, not because they want to dish out simpler and more humble food, but rather, to deal with financial troubles, supply chain issues, and the strain on understaffed kitchens.

Easy-to-prepare items are taking over restaurant menus

Restaurants began to cut down on their menus amidst the pandemic to deal with rising costs and logistical difficulties, reports CNN, but continuing challenges in the industry indicate that the trend of simplified, smaller menus may be here to stay. These issues can be as straightforward as a potato shortage thanks to the Russia/Ukraine event, as both countries together account for 10% of the world's potato supply (via Grub Street). 

Other problems are far more complicated. Owners tell Grub Street that about 90% of restaurants are functioning with an understaffed crew and chefs admit that they simply don't have enough team members to focus on both prep and cook. As a result, chefs are pushing dishes that can be prepped and assembled in advance so that they're ready to go when orders come in without needing to be cooked by another team of chefs. This is also why certain items like chicken parmesan, raw bar selections, and cheese platters are becoming more popular, replacing the more complicated items on restaurant menus.

Elsewhere, expensive food items are being scrapped from menus to keep up with shrinking margins and menus are being shortened to improve efficiency and keep food waste to a minimum (via Food & Wine). Additionally, The Wall Street Journal reports that 60% of the 4,800 menus surveyed by Dataessential in 2021 across the U.S. reported having simplified their menus, with the number of items on menus being downsized by nearly 23%.