Menu Engineering: Driving higher check averages with the combo meals

Did you know that the first combo meal in America was served back in the 1950s by a now-defunct restaurant chain called Burger Chef? It was a complete meal with a choice of burger, french fries, and a drink mix. The combo meal was called ‘Triple Threat’ and cost only 45 cents. Following this, combo meals were adopted by a number of fast-food restaurants because of its effectiveness in improving sales and profits.

Combo meal has made a comeback, and how?

Being a popular option in QSRs and fast-food chains, the concept is gaining popularity among full-service restaurants as well, driving higher check averages as well as customer satisfaction. What makes it a hit is that you can take the same items on your menu, bundle them together and sold them at a price that not just looks enticing to the customers but also yields more profit for you. Besides, combo meals take the role of suggestive sellers to help indecisive customers who just want to relax and let others choose for them.

According to a study conducted by a professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, customers naturally prefer combo meals over single-item ordering. Customers are instinctively drawn towards such schemes, irrespective of the portion size or the actual savings, and this is because of its perceived value. The same is true for online ordering. In fact, online ordering has seen 10-15% more sales for this category.

In a highly competitive online delivery sector, it’s often difficult to stand out. But with a coherent menu engineering with interesting combo meals you can change the way customers perceive your product. Since such meals already have high perceived value, it only makes sense why they should be well highlighted in your online menu.

What makes people order more combo deals when ordering food online

It’s quicker

According to the Atlantic, combo meals were initiated due to an operational necessity because customers were finding it difficult to make decisions ordering from the menu board resulting in longer waiting lines. What combo meals did was make it easy and quick for customers to place an order at the counter, thereby, increasing the order count per day for the restaurants.

This philosophy stands true even today, especially in a time constraint economy. Lack of time and on-the-go lifestyle are few top reasons why people prefer ordering combo deals. They don’t have to scan through the menu anymore. Having 4 to 5 interesting high-end pairings would be enough to impress your customers both in presentation and satisfaction.

It’s flexible

With more and more restaurants offering customized combo meals, where diners can pick their own choice of food and drinks, this concept is becoming much more flexible.

This is much to the preference of the customers who are increasingly seeking to build their own meal, especially if the restaurants offer healthier options. For instance, the flexibility to replace Fries with a small plate of Salad can generate positive traffic growth. Fast casuals like Chipotle, Panera, Applebees, and Motomaki have all initiated the customization concept.

In order to create effective combinations pay attention to the eating and ordering habits of your customers. Analyze their selections and find a combination of dishes that are repeated. Wrap them all in one package and make your customers believe that they have saved money.

It offers value

If anything that a combo meal offers to customers is the value for money. A combination of an entree, a side dish and a beverage of choice for less than $20, with customization options, has the potential to drive much of the rise in customer traffic.

Restaurants can also maximize the opportunity by choosing the dish with the highest profit margin and pairing them with another popular menu item and beverages.

What's the trend like currently and how it is going to grow in the future.

According to Technomic while 72% of consumers expect customization, only 46% of restaurants and foodservice chains acknowledge that customers want to customize their orders.

The popularity of combo meals is as high as ever but instead of the restaurant dictating a set meal for customers to order, the latter are choosing to make their own customized combo meals.

Online menus, therefore, clearly need to focus on the build-your-own-meal concept. For instance, Chipotle owes much of its success to its extensive meal customization option. Even something as simple as allowing diners to create their own pizza, as PizzaHut does, will provide more incentive for people to order from your restaurant.

It’s also important to remember that people now want combo meals to be healthier, even at quick-service restaurants. Customers want to be more informed about the nutritional value of the food and are willing to pay more for food that delivers on its claims. That being the case, customers are not only looking at convenience and money-saving deals from combo meals but also meals that are wholesome.

In conclusion, combo meals can prove to be of value to both the restaurants and the customers ordering online. Customization and healthy offerings have also become major factors in the success of combo meals and it has become imperative for restaurants to implement these on their online menu.

Can you think of a unique combo meal? What’s your take on this trend? Share your ideas in the comment section below!