By Princess Jones

Menu creep is when a business slowly begins to offer more and more items outside of its original scope. Business offerings should evolve over time, but menu creep implies that evolution occurs without conscious decision and to the business’ detriment.

Let’s say that you have a taco truck. You start off offering three types of tacos. After a few months, you notice that the everyone’s going crazy for a new quesadilla truck that parks nearby, so you add some of those to your menu. Then you go to a food show where you notice that tater tots are trending so you add a few of those options to your menu. The next thing you know, your taco truck has 40 items on its menu. That’s menu creep.

Menu creep makes your business look disorganized; it dilutes your brand and wastes your resources. This term is usually used to refer to the restaurant industry, but menu creep can happen anywhere. In fact, many small businesses suffer from it. Before they realize what’s happening, they’re offering an unfocused host of products or services. If you want to avoid it, ask yourself these three questions.

Does this serve our brand?

The best way to avoid menu creep is by only offering products and services that stay within your brand identity. Describe your business at its core. Go back to your business plan if you have to. Use your elevator speech as inspiration if you have to. If the product doesn’t fit within that, it has to go.

Think about Supercuts’ business model. That brand is the budget, haircut for someone who is in a hurry. If they started offering hair extensions, it would be off brand. Hair extensions are expensive and take a long time to complete. The company wouldn’t be able to turn its stations as much. Since it makes the majority of its revenue in volume, it would be hurtful to the business model.

Does this serve our customers?

Whether you are in retail or tech or hospitality, the fastest way to find failure is to attempt to please everyone. Cater to your core customer and forget everyone else. Remember when the iPhone first came out? Some potential buyers were absolutely livid that there was no physical keyboard, which was fairly standard at the time. But those were not the core customer for this type of smartphone. If Apple wanted to cater to every possible preference out there, it would have offered a lot of options. Instead it left the design as it was. That’s a great example of avoiding menu creep by not working to please everyone.

Keep in mind that your core customer is not every single customer you ever have. Just because one person wants a new product, doesn’t mean the market can bear it. Think about the majority of the people who buy your product or service. Use customer surveys or focus groups to help define the wants and needs of your core customer.

Does this use our resources efficiently?

As a small business, your resources are limited. Whether that’s staff, raw materials, space, or time, you have to work with what you have in the most efficient way possible. Before you add a new product to your offerings, ask yourself how much strain would it put on your resources?

Look at a brand like Pizza Hut. It serves takeout pizza and various add-ons to accompany it. If you’ll look at Pizza Hut’s menu, most of the items it serves can be made by using the same oven it uses to make pizzas, it’s foundational product. It doesn’t serve items that have to be deep fried, even if they fit within its brand, because it would take more equipment, kitchen space, and staff to do so.

How do you avoid menu creep in your small business?