Why Menu Planning Software Falls Short for Institutional Foodservice Operators

In institutional foodservice, a menu planner’s job is to find food combinations that achieve the best overall menu performance – accounting for meal and menu appeal, nutrition, and cost on a holistic basis. But do menu planners ever know if they’ve achieved their best possible menu performance?

Today, the answer is no because menu planners don’t have the right tools for designing menus or measuring how they perform. Current menu planning software doesn’t address the holistic view of “best overall menu performance” that planners are striving to achieve. So, without proper tools, menu planners spend 10-30% more on food than necessary, while making one disappointing performance tradeoff after another (i.e., menu appeal vs. nutrition vs. cost). The results always fall far short of the best overall menu performance.

Fortunately, a new menu planning technology is now available – Menu Optimization Software. Designed to maximize the menu value from every food dollar spent, menu optimization software automatically generates entirely new cycle menus – delivering on all the planner’s performance specifications at the lowest possible cost. 

Let’s look at what menu planning software does and doesn’t do, and explain how menu optimization software makes menu planners more powerful – transforming them from mere planners to designers of the best overall menu performance.

What Menu Planning Software Does and Doesn’t Do

The term “menu planning software” covers a lot of ground and attaches to systems of all shapes and colors. These systems all handle the basics like recipe setup and scaling, along with all kinds of reporting on nutrition and costs. Then there are more extensive systems, like the ones in healthcare that enable planners to account for the dietary requirements of individual patients or residents and roll up those requirements into food production plans. In between, systems include added features to streamline daily workflow and squeeze out operational waste (e.g., overproduction, food spoilage, inventory obsolescence).

So, what doesn’t menu planning software do? It doesn’t fundamentally improve how menu planners choose foods, construct and combine meals, or measure menu performance. In other words, it leaves menu planners stuck where they’ve always been – striving to achieve the best overall menu performance using intuition, rules-of-thumb, legacy menus, and trial-and-error.

Enter Menu Optimization Software

Menu optimization software does all of the essentials menu planning software does. But it adds the missing technology piece that equips planners to finally achieve their best possible menu performance.

A look at each software as a simple process of inputs, actions, and outputs makes this clear.

The fundamental action of menu planning software is analysis – breaking down or analyzing the nutrition and costs of current menus (typically manually entered) and producing reports. Using these reports to try and improve overall menu performance brings the planner right back to more trial-and-error tradeoffs – “change this and see what happens”.

In contrast, menu optimization software uses the planner’s best menu design thinking as inputs. It enables planners to codify the reasoning they have always tried to use when choosing foods and laying out patterns of meals over an entire cycle. The planner’s reasoning is translated into menu design rules in areas such as: nutrient targets and limits; minimum and maximum meal parts for each meal; food types and food characteristics that can or can’t be combined; serving size ranges for mains, sides, desserts; food repeat patterns, food pairings of favorite meals, etc.

Then, menu optimization algorithms calculate thousands of food combinations to utilize the underlying costs and nutrients of the foods and planner’s recipes most efficiently. Rather than analyses, the outputs are entirely new cycle menus that deliver on all the planner’s menu goals at the lowest possible cost.

What Should Menu Planners Do?

Menu optimization software is a bold new choice for foodservice professionals who must get the most menu value from every food dollar spent. And menu planners should adopt it as a game-changer for continually improving their “best overall menu performance”. Even where menu planning software has become entrenched in daily operations, menu planners should “bolt on” menu optimization software to supercharge processes with genuine menu design tools. Menu optimization software makes it possible to consistently do more with food for less money. Maintaining the status quo will inevitably result in doing less with food for more money.