15 February 2012 Jay Shepherd

How the Five Guys menu can help your company

A few months ago, when I was visiting my brother in Denver, he introduced me to Five Guys hamburger restaurant. Now I’m hooked. Each restaurant is clean and well lit, decorated with bright white and red tiles, and easy-to-read signs. There is a big box of peanuts for you to help yourself from while you’re waiting. The burgers themselves are as fresh as you will find (they use no freezers), and the french fries are fantastic.

But what really sets Five Guys apart is its menu. Check it out (click it to biggify):

As you can see, there’s not much there. They basically sell only five things: burgers, hot dogs, veggie or cheese sandwiches, fries, and soft drinks. You can add cheese or bacon or both to your burger or dog. You can choose a single patty (called a “Little Hamburger”) instead of the regular double patty. You can have your fries Cajun style instead of regular. And you can add all the usual toppings for no extra cost. And that’s it.

The menu is simplicity itself. They focus on a handful of items and they make them exceptionally well. Customers are not overwhelmed with a bunch of choices. It’s basically, “Burger, hot dog, fries, and what do you want on them?” Couldn’t be easier.

Contrast this with the complexity of the current menu at McDonald’s. There are too many categories with dozens of items, many of which aren’t even clear about what species they’re in. (Just what the heck is a “Big ’n’ Tasty” anyway?) Customers who don’t go to McDonald’s frequently and order their usual are forced to wade through too many choices while people wait in line behind them.

mcdonalds menu flickr | matt mcgee

What is more, with so many different food items to prepare, it’s unlikely that they’re all going to be good. Better to do a few things well, like Five Guys does (Five Guys do?), than to do too many things mediocrely.

The biggest irony here is that when McDonald’s started out, its menu looked much like Five Guys’: just burgers, fries, shakes, and soft drinks.

original mcdonalds menu credit: ebaumsworld.comMany businesses think that customers want a lot of choices. But too many choices tend to annoy customers and paralyze them with indecision. Too many choices takes away from the pleasantness of the experience, and eventually drive customers away.

No matter what business you’re in, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to offer your customers a lot of choices. Instead, focus on doing what you do best, and don’t do anything else. It’s easier for you, and easier for your customers.

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Comments (7)

  1. And having fewer options speeds up the kitchen, reduces training time for staff and reduces the variety of inventory you have to keep on hand.
    All around a better way to go.

  2. Is the average McDonalds really that much less successful than the average Five Guys?

    Looking at the numbers, the $725,000 revenue per McDonalds location (2010) versus $850,000 revenue per Five Guys location (2009) isn’t that big of difference. And considering McDonalds revenue is spread between 33,000 locations, McDonalds could probably cull 10% of their lowest performing locations and reach Five Guys.

    Not that I wouldn’t rather eat a Five Guys (or, preferably, an In-n-Out), but McDonalds has obviously found success with an array of choices, including a bunch that are more healthy than nearly anything you can get at a Five Guys outside of a cup of ice. I would argue that both can be successful if done in the right way.

    • jayshep

      You’re absolutely right, Lance. Thanks for adding the facts and figures.

      I’m actually a big fan of McDonald’s, and I was a grill guy there in the mid-1980s. But even if the two brands are equal in terms of revenue per store, that’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment for Five Guys, since McDonald’s had a 46-year head start on them.

      No one can deny McDonald’s success, but I would argue that they could be even more successful if they returned to their roots and pared back the menu.

      Thanks for sharing, Lance. Love your work.

      — Jay

    • Great points, Lance. But I’d argue that McD’s has spent a $gazillion (or close to it) for generations worth of branding that makes their logo one of the most recognized in the world. Even by 2-year-old children. Many of those sales dollars probably aren’t because of their complicated menus; they are in spite of them. I bet that their core items (Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, regular hamburgers and cheeseburgers, Chicken McNuggets, fries, and Cokes) constitute the 80% (Pareto principle) and the rest is superfluous, probably costing them more to advertise, train, source, and prepare than they are worth.

  3. Love it Jay. Now if we apply this example to a traditional service firm then we are not only selling the McDonald’s menu but we are also making up new patties/fries/shakes/rice/noodles/and steaks to tailor to the different customers that walk in our door. Bad business. No business.

    Though being a hardcore So Cal guy I’d have to say I’m bummed that you didn’t use the In n Out menu – burger, burger with cheese, free to increase the number of servings between buns, and then just fries.

    To be fair – even I struggle with specialization and turning away businesses. Easier said than done – but probably worth doing.

  4. Jay, this makes so much sense. Thanks for sharing it with me tonight. You’re right. I know exactly what Five Guys sells, and I go there when I want a good hamburger. Simplicity of design and intention is the key to what businesses need to keep in mind. When we operate otherwise, we can’t be surprised when they have no idea what we do!

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