Blue Point Oysters

Blue Point Oyster Flavor Profile

Blue Point Oysters have largely become a generic name for oysters harvested from multiple locations anywhere in the Long Island Sound in the New York & Connecticut oyster region. The result is that the flavor & brininess is all over the spectrum, from boring to quite good. They are a Bottom Cultured Oyster.

True, Genuine Blue Point Oysters Return!

In 1995 Chris Quartuccio established Blue Island Shellfish Farms and he has successfully brought back a True Blue Point Oyster with it’s characteristic brininess. He offers the only Genuine Blue Point Oyster. It has a consistently fresh, crisp, firm texture, with a sweet aftertaste that sparkles with salinity.


Blue point Oysters jpgThis image by Chefs-Resources is licensed

Blue Point Oysters originated near the town of Blue Point, Long Island, situated on Great South Bay, New York. In the early 1800’s they were famous for their robust, wild flavor and it became the favorite oyster of Queen Victoria. The name Blue Point Oyster was so popular that many people pirated the name in the 1800’s until finally in 1908 the New York State Legislature passed a law stating, “No person, firm or corporation shall sell or offer for sale any oysters, or label or brand any package containing oysters for shipment or sale, under the name of Blue Point oysters, other than oysters that have been cultivated in the waters of the Great South Bay in Suffolk County.”

But somehow the law became “diluted” and Blue Point Oysters had become a generic term for any Long Island Oyster. But then in 1995 Blue Island Shellfish Farms opened and is now recognized as the only grower on earth of genuine Blue Point oysters.


Blue Point Oysters
Location Anywhere in Long Island Sound, New York and Connecticut
Species Virginica Oyster (Crassostrea virginica)
Oyster Availability September – July
Size up to 4″
Oyster Cultivation Bottom cultured
Oyster Flavor Profile The Blue Point oyster name has become generic and so the flavor can vary. Generally, Blue Point oysters have satiny, almost liquid meats with a high brininess and very mild flavor.Genuine Blue Point Oysters have a fresh, crisp, firm texture, with a sweet aftertaste that sparkles with salinity.

Visit Blue Island Shellfish Farms website.


Comments from before Site Migration

OYSTERFARMER2 [] [ Aug 01, 2015 ]

There are now upwards of 20 oyster growers other than Blue Island Oyster Co. that farm genuine Blue Point Oysters in Suffolk County waters of Great South Bay. This fact is a result of the Bay Bottom Leasing Program of the Town of Islip NY which commenced in 2013.


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Kumamoto Oysters – Humboldt Bay

Kumamoto Oysters from Humboldt Bay, CA

Kumamoto Oysters have a different naming structure than Pacific Oysters or the East Coast Virginica Oysters. While Pacific and East Coast Oysters are known by a specific brand name such as Fanny Bay or Blue Point, Kumamoto Oysters are simply sold as “Kumamoto Oysters”. I think this is because there are so few places which cultivate Kumos (maybe 4 – 5 sites on the West Coast), while Pacific Oysters have over 65 specific designations (names) which are usually the name of a bay or other geographical marker where the oyster is farmed.

Kumamotos from Humboldt Bay, California are raised by two cultivation methods, Tidal Basket cultivation and Long Line cultivation. They have virtually the same flavor profile and available sizes to choose from, but they do have different shapes. The Tidal Basket raised Kumos have deeper cups and a more sculpted shape to the shell. The Long Line raised Kumos have a “wilder” look and are more reminiscent of other cultivated Kumamoto oysters.

Kumamoto Oysters Humboldt Bay - Long Line Kumamoto Oysters Humboldt Bay - Tidal Basket

Humboldt Bay Kumamoto Oyster
Location Humboldt Bay, California
Species Kumamoto Oyster (Crassostrea Sikamea)
Oyster Availability Year Around
Size 1″,  1.5″,  2″,  2.5″  and  3″
Oyster Cultivation 2 varieties: Tidal Basket -or- Long Line
Oyster Flavor Profile Kumamoto Oysters from Humboldt Bay have a briny, sweet flavor.


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The 5 Oyster Species

Types of Oysters

There are over 150 varieties of oysters harvested and sold in North America, yet they comprise a total of only 5 species of oysters. And although each species does have its general characteristics in regards to flavor, their “finishing touches” can be attributed more to their merroir (local habitat) than to their species. In this sense, oysters are much like fine wine…each one is distinctly different from each other as they take on the flavors indigenous to the regions and conditions under which they were grown.

Pacific Oysters – Crassostrea gigas

Pacific OysterAlternate Names: Japanese Oyster, Creuse (France), Miyagi
Examples: Penn Cove Select, Fanny Bay, Kusshi

Although it is the most commonly cultivated oyster on the US Pacific Coast, they are not native to the region. Pacific oysters were brought to the US from the Asian Pacific in the early 1900’s, and introduced in France in the 1970’s and are now the world’s most cultivated oyster. Pacific’s have shells with naturally ruffled edges (if they aren’t tumbled) and are distinctly more fluted (elongated) than other oysters. Shell colors range from gray/green to vivid multi-colors of royal purple, gold and jade green.

Although they have a wide spectrum of flavors, Pacific Oysters in general tend to have a sweeter, less briny taste than Atlantic Oysters. Common nuances of flavor include: varying degrees of brininess, creamy, herbaceous, melon (honeydew or watermelon rind), vegetal.

Pacific’s grow quickly and many reach market size in about 18 months.

Kumamoto Oysters – Crassostrea sikamea

Kumamoto OysterAlternate Names: Kumi, Kumo

Kumamoto’s are another import from Asia, Japan specifically. In 1947 Kumamoto oysters were introduced to Washington State as a substitution for Pacific Oysters which had been ordered from Japan. They were never popular in Japan, but are one of the very most popular oysters in the US.

While Pacific and Atlantic oysters are widely cultivated in the US and are frequently named after the specific bay, river, or region they are cultivated in/near, Kumamoto oysters are so popular, so distinct, that they typically go simply by the name “Kumamoto Oyster”, although some establishments will include the area of harvest, such as “Kumamoto – Oakland Bay”. Primary cultivation areas include Baja California, Humboldt Bay, and Puget Sound. Not many farmers cultivate Kumamoto’s because they are a slow growing oyster and the seed is hard to come by. Because they spawn later, and in warmer waters, they are of good quality later into the summer than other oysters.

Kumo’s are a small oyster (only the Olympia oyster is smaller), having deep bowl-like cups with nicely sculpted and fluted shells. They have a creamy or buttery texture with a sweet, mild, almost nutty flavor and a melon-like finish. Because of their mild, unintimidating flavor and small size they are the perfect oyster for beginners, yet still enjoyed by connoisseurs as well.

Atlantic Oysters – Crassostrea virginica

Atlantic OysterAlternate Names: Eastern Oyster, Virginica
Examples: Blue Point, Malpeque, Wellfleet

Atlantic Oysters are the “great American oyster” and are naturally found along the North American Atlantic Coast from Canada southward to the Gulf of Mexico. Along with the Olympia Oyster, they are the only indigenous oyster found in North America.

Atlantic oysters are distinctly different than Pacific oysters in that they tend to be larger, have a tear drop or paisley shape, smooth shells and uniform colors of brown, cream and forest green. Virginica’s are also more affected by water temperature than Pacific’s are. In the relatively warm waters of Virginia a farmer can bring a Virginica to market size in about 18 months (just like a Pacific). But in the frigid Nova Scotia waters it can take up to 4 years for a Virginica to reach market size.

East Coast Oysters tend to be brinier than other oysters, with a crisp texture, clean flavor, a mineral accent and a savory finish. Northern Virginica’s tend to have a more intense brininess.

European Flat Oysters – Ostrea edulis

Belon OysterAlternate Names: Belon
Examples: Maine “Belon”

Although many European Flats are frequently called Belons, they technically can only be called Belons if they are from the Brittany region of France near the Belon River. Thus, while all Belons are European Flats, not all European Flats are Belons.

European Flats have smooth, round (saucer-like), flat shells with a shallow cup and seaweed-green color. You need to be a true oyster lover to enjoy them as they have the boldest of flavors in the oyster kingdom. They have a meaty, almost crunchy texture, with an intense mineral bite up front, a potent seaweed flavor, and a long-lasting gamey finish.

Due to the potency of flavor, and the amount of over-harvesting of this species, it can be rather difficult to find. There are not many farmers cultivating it.

Olympia Oysters – Ostrea lurida /Ostrea conchaphila

Olympia OysterAlternate Names: Oly

Olympias are the only oyster indigenous to the US Pacific West Coast. They were so popular during the Gold Rush era that by the end of the 1800’s they were wiped out and for many years thought to be extinct. But some wild stock was eventually found in the Pacific Northwest and is now cultivated successfully by a few farmers.

Although they are from the same family (Ostrea) as their larger cousin the European Flat, Olympia oysters are the smallest of all the species with the average diameter being somewhere between the size of a nickel and a quarter. They are a finicky oyster, hard to cultivate, and can take up to 4 years to reach the grand size of a quarter.

Despite their diminutive size, Olympia oysters are potently flavorful, yet easier to approach than a European Flat. They have a creamy texture with strong flavors of sweet celery and bright copper with a long lasting metallic finish.

Download the free Five Types of Oysters PDF


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Pemaquid Oysters

Pemaquid Oyster Flavor Profile Characteristics

Pemaquid Oysters are cultivated in the frigid, deep waters of the Damariscotta River, Maine, at a point where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Pemaquids have deep cups set in rock-hard shells. They have plump, very firm meats which are mildly sweet with a clean, lemony zest flavor and solid brininess. They range in size from 3” to 5”, with the larger ones having a more complex flavor. Pemaquids are harvested from March through December and are available in cocktail, select and jumbo sizes.

Prior to sale Pemaquids are plunged into the cold, oceanic waters of coastal Maine to hold and to purge, leaving them free of mad and sand at sale.


Pemaquid Oyster
Location Damariscotta River, Maine
Species Virginica Oyster (Crassostrea virginica)
Oyster Availability March – December
Size up to 5″
Oyster Cultivation
Oyster Flavor Profile Pemaquid Oysters have plump, very firm meats which are mildly sweet with a clean, lemony zest flavor and solid brininess.

See proper shellfish storage methods for the best way to maintain the shelf life and flavor of your oysters.

See our list of Where to buy Raw Oysters.

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Saddlerock Oysters

Saddlerock Oyster Flavor Profile Characteristics

Saddlerock Oysters are from one of the Long Island oyster appellations in the New York & Connecticut oyster region. Saddlerock oysters originated at a formation in the East River near Norwalk Harbor. In the 1800’s, the Saddlerock was the predominant bluepoint oyster sold. But they were sold until there were no more. Now the name has been revived for an oyster rasied on the Connecticut side of Long Island Sound.


Saddlerock Oyster
Location Northport Long Island, New York
Species Virginica Oyster (Crassostrea virginica)
Oyster Availability September – July
Size up to 5″
Oyster Cultivation
Oyster Flavor Profile Saddlerock Oysters have plump meats and a medium brininess

See proper shellfish storage methods for the best way to maintain the shelf life and flavor of your oysters. The Saddlerock Oyster is no longer available according to the K&B Seafood website.

See our list of Where to buy Raw Oysters.

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Oyster Varieties

Half Shell Oyster Varieties

In North America there are at least 150 varieties of fresh oysters available for chefs to choose from for their menus. Yet all of these choices come from only 5 types of oysters: Kumamoto, Pacific oyster, Atlantic (Eastern) oyster, Olympia, and European Flats are the 5 species of oyster available in North America. It is from these 5 species that all the varieties spawn from.

Oyster flavor profiles have advanced to the point of being akin to wine tasting. Connoisseurs discuss the salinity & complexity of the oyster, the finish, the hints of melon or cucumber. Other common tastes found in oysters include seaweed, mineral, iron, copper, sweet, vegetal, lettuce, umami and mushroom. It can be rather daunting to remember it all. Below you will find our index to over 70 West Coast oyster varieties and 60 East Coast oyster varieties, as well as maps to oyster appellations. Each oyster profile includes flavor characteristics, oyster descriptions and seasonal availability.

Check-out the link for information on oyster cultivation methods and their effects upon oyster flavor profiles. Or see oyster farming for more detailed information about oyster aquaculture. Also, see shellfish storage for the best way to hold your shellfish. And our link to oyster shucking styles has descriptions and video of how to shuck oysters.

Oysters Index by Region

Current Fresh Oyster Availability

A 4th Generation Oyster Fisherman, and Family Ties to Oyster Industry


Comments from before Site Migration

Add a Comment!


CARL    [ May 31, 2015 ]

I’ve have been Shucking a variety of Oysters each one has a different shucking Technique according to the Shell, some have hooks like the Shigoku and some are very brittle like the Fanny Bay, it’s really important the pressure applied to preserve the Beauty of the oyster.

DAVID BUCHANAN    [ Apr 08, 2015 ]

AKERSEY – excellent link w/ great info about Gulf Oysters…thanks!

CLARK []    [ Nov 13, 2014  ]

Why no mention of Gulf oysters??

MATT ASEN. PRAWNBROKER REST. GROUP []    [ Oct 20, 2014  ]

Nice article about oysters! I have eaten and collected the shells of over 550 different oysters from 13 different countries. 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces. This includes C. Virginica. C. gigas, C. sikamea, O. edulis, O. conchaphila and C. ariakensis (from Malaysia). If you would like me to share the list with you, let me know. I also have 14 24×30 display cases filled with over 300 shells.

MIKE []    [ May 20, 2014  ]

Here in Southern California we often get Blue Point Oysters (y wife’s favorite so far) but these are not listed here and I was wondering if you had any information on them.

Thank you as this seems to be a wonderful site packed with awesome information.

DAVID BUCHANAN    [ May 20, 2014  ]

Hello Mike – the listing for Blue Points is in a different section which unfortunately can be harder to find.  Here is the link, and to the left of that page you’ll see the East Coast oysters list

MDR []    [ Mar 25, 2014  ]

looking for the characteristics of a Baja oyster(san quitin) or jailhouse

DAVID BUCHANAN    [ Jan 20, 2014  ]

Thank-you Jennifer! Part of the goal of the site is to provide waitstaff w/ the info about oysters and fish which they need in order to be well informed and to make the pitch to their guests. You have a nice site as well. I like the idea of the server quizzes which you created.

IAMWAITRESS []    [ Jan 19, 2014  ]

I am absolutely impressed with the effort you put into this list!  Bravo to you and your website.  Thanks for your time and education in helping to educate us.


LYNDON COX []    [ Sep 06, 2012  ]
I noticed that you left out two Oregon bays that produce quality oyster from your list. Umpqua Aquaculture produces their famous “Triangle Oysters” at Winchester Bay and Clausen Oysters farms their “Silver Point” at the North Bend of Coos Bay. Qualman’s Oyster Farm is also located in Coos Bay. If you have questions or need further information, please contact me via my email address. Thank you, Lyndon Cox
DAVID BUCHANAN    [ May 22, 2012  ]

Steve, I do intend to add the gulf state oysters!  If you have a list of some of your favorites post them here.

STEVE FRITH []    [ May 22, 2012  ]

I like the site sand was looking at the oyster regions.  Seems you have the entire US covered except the Gulf Coast!  We eat oyster here year round and I was extremely suprised to see this area of the country was left out.

DAVID BUCHANAN    [ May 19, 2010  ]

David, thank-you for the information!  Snow Hills Oysters have been added.

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Dinner at Alinea 2021 – the Cuisine of Chef Grant Achatz

May 5, 2021

Dinner at Alinea – May 2021

Dining at Chef Grant Achatz’s Alinea restaurant in Chicago has been on my bucket list for many years. This year 3 friends joined me to dine at this highly acclaimed restaurant. Alinea is one of only 14 restaurants in the entire US that has 3 Michelin Stars, and since 2015 Alinea has consistently been ranked among the top 50 best restaurants in the world .

Several years ago I was planning a trip to Chicago and 3 months ahead of time I tried to get a reservation at Alinea…no luck, you had to book 6 months out to get a reservation. This year because of COVID they were closed down like most restaurants in the US. So when they began reopening I was able to book with as little as a 2 week notice. The only hitch was that in April you could only book for 4 people…not 1, not 2, it had to be 4. This is probably in order to maximize their seating capacity since during restrictions capacity was at 25% or 50%. So I contacted a bunch of friends until I had 4, then I grabbed it.

Because of their high demand, they also have the luxury of charging you upfront at the time of booking. No refunds, but you can transfer your reservation to someone else. Most restaurant owners would love to be able to set these conditions! But it makes sense for an establishment that is in such high demand. There is no reason why they should tolerate a “no show” reservation. They are in high enough demand that they can set the rules, and I was happy to comply. The final price was $315 including 20% service charge and tax. Then I added the first tier wine pairing plus a couple of whiskeys…$255 w/ tax and gratuity.

The menu lists 8 courses, but some had multiple sub-courses, so if you count the number of dishes used for the progression of dinner, then there are 16 individual courses.

This post simply documents my experience…it is not a critique (who would critique Grant Achatz?!)

Alinea Menu May 2021

Course 1 –

Picholine, Gold, Blood
Laurent-Peppier, “Cuvée Rosé,” Champagne, France NV

Alinea Scallop dish Picholine, Gold, Blood

first course wine

Bay scallops, picholine olives, grapefruit, onion (shallots?). The sauce had a fabulous opalescent sheen to it and had a consistency which coated everything, as opposed to a sauce which is poured over everything but then the sauce settles. This sauce encompassed, almost suspended, all the components. And the wine was a perfect match, enhancing the dish, refreshing the palate.

Course 2 –

Arctic Char, Maple Syrup, Fish Sauce
Smoked Char Roe, Carrot, Smoke
Domaine Galévan, Grenache Blanc Blend, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Southern Rhone, France 2018

Alinea Arctic Char, Maple Syrup, Fish Sauce


Smoked Char Roe, Carrot, Smoke


second course wine

This was a very cool presentation because the first part was presented on the top of the glass, and then the second part was contained in the bottom of the glass, perfectly suspended there until you flipped the glass over.
Top: Sous vide Arctic Char, seared half way on top edge but still rare on the bottom, topped with a thin layer of a brûlée-like crust of maple syrup laced with the umami essence of fish sauce.
Bottom: Lightly smoked Arctic Char roe, mildly sweet carrot pudding, charred oak barrel tea turned into a gelatin to suspend all these ingredients.

Course 3 –

Alaskan King Crab, Mantou
Maryland Blue Crab, William Deas’
Jo Landron, “Le Fief Du Breil,” Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine, Loire Valley, France 2009 et Magnum

Alinea King Crab and Blue Crab Bisque

Alaskan King Crab, Mantou

Maryland Blue Crab, William Deas

third course wine

The Left Crab dish: King Crab over a Mantou Steamed Bun.
The Right Crab dish: Blue Crab Bisque which was intensified in flavor by using crab roe in the infusion. The flavor of the bisque was so wonderfully rich and full it evoked a face-splitting smile on my face…I wanted more! This recipe apparently is inspired by She Crab Soup by William Deas.

Course 4 –

Challerhocker, Périgord Black Truffle, Mustard
Russian Cabbage Soup
Brussels Sprout, Bacon, Beet
Trimbach, “Reserve,” Pinot Gris, Alsace, France 2016

Alinea Russian Doll

Russian Cabbage Soup

Alinea Cabbage Slicer

Challerhocker, Périgord Black Truffle, Mustard

Brussels Sprout, Bacon, Beet

fourth course wine

This was a multi-course dish with several stunning interactions with the front of the house team. First, the Russian dolls were placed in front of us, each of us had a different crafted doll. Beside that, a bowl of chilled bright red beet puree laced w/ brussels sprout leaves and edible flowers. We were told to leave the beet dish until last.

We were first told to open the Russian doll. Inside was a very flavorful 2 oz shot glass of chilled cabbage soup (with a backbone flavor of chicken stock) laced with an oil on top.

While we enjoyed the cabbage soup, a complicated, spotlessly clean hand slicing machine was wheeled to the end of the table. A server held a warm head of cabbage which had been sous vide in bacon fat, roasted, charred, and then smoked, which he then put onto the machine and sliced into thin linguini-like “noodles”. These were then turned with a fork to form a small bundle of cabbage noodles and place in separate dishes.

The dishes were placed in front of each of us and another member of the server team approached with a small pitcher and poured a creamy sauce of the Challerhocker cheese over the noodles. As the bottom of the pitcher was reached, a sauce of Périgord Black Truffles began pouring out, creating a black lacey effect over the white Challerhocker sauce. The flavors and textures of this dish were mesmerizing.

Lastly, we were invited to finish the dish with the chilled beet puree laced with edible flowers & brussels sprout leaves. This dish cleansed the palate of the creamy cheese sauce, the lightly smoked cabbage, and the Périgord Black Truffles, opening us up for the next dish.

Course 5 –

Cauliflower, Cheese, Black Curry
Kistler, “Les Noisetiers,” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California 2019

Cauliflower, Cheese, Black Curry

sixth course wine

This course featured a perfectly steamed cauliflower stem pressed into fresh cheese curds dressed with a cauliflower purée, black lentil and black sesame curry with garum masala. The black “crisp” was thin and crunchy, acting as a cracker for the curds.

Course 6 –

7X Ranch Beef, Oyster Mushroom, Oyster Leaf
Beef Oyster, Oyster, Mignonette
Emilio Moro, “Malleolus,” Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero, Spain 2017

7X Ranch Beef, Oyster Mushroom, Oyster Leaf

Beef Oyster, Oyster, Mignonette

sixth course wine

According to Chef Grant’s Instagram page, this dish was inspired by British Steak and Oyster Pie. Left side of plate: Seared 7X Ranch Wagyu Beef. Right side of plate: oyster custard, onion, oyster mushrooms and oyster leaf tart. Hand-crafted onion ring on top. Center: Guinness-Worcestershire sauce.
In the oyster shell: poached “beef oysters” and mignonette.

Course 7 –
Maui Hui

Venison, Poi, Pineapple
Venison, Kukui Nut, Seaweed
Haupia, “Spam”, Allium
Coconut, Black Bread, Banana Chutney
Turley, “Presenti Vineyard,” Zinfandel, Paso Robles, California 2019

Alinea Haupia,

Venison, Poi, Pineapple

Alinea Fire for Black Bread


Coconut, Black Bread, Banana Chutney

This was another multi-dish course. At the beginning of the course, before anything was set before us, the ring of black rocks was placed on the table and set on fire. We were told that it would have meaning later in the dining experience.

The first dish consisted of  Venison, Poi, and Pineapple. The venison chop was paired with Poi which is a Hawaiian dish made from the fermented root of the taro which has been baked and pounded to a paste. Next to both of these was a Pineapple “Lei” decorated w/ edible flower petals.

On the yellow plate was the Haupia, “Spam”, Allium dish. Haupia is a Hawaiian coconut pudding, Chef Grant topped this with his version of spam and garnished it with Allium which can be any of a variety flowering plants including  onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives. (sorry, didn’t catch which one he used).

In the clear bowl in the back was the Venison, Kukui Nut, Seaweed dish. Unfortunately I don’t have a good description for this dish (should have used a voice recorder!). As a note, Kukui nuts have a flavor similar to Brazil nuts.

Coconut, Black Bread, Banana Chutney At this point, the ring of fire had burned low. A waiter took a pair of tongs and extracted 4 cleverly hidden (hiding in plain sight) black “rocks” from the ring of black rocks. But these 4 were actually a Black bread made with black sesame seeds. They were place on plates along with a coconut pudding and banana chutney (under the violet petal).

Course 8 –

Meyer Lemon, Blueberry, Viola
Bodegas lLs Bermejos, Malvasia “Naturalmente Dulce” Canary Islands, Spain NV

Alinea Painted Table Dessert



For the finale one of the sous chefs came out, put 4 triangular shaped plastic sheets on the table, and decorated each of them for the dessert course. This is now a classic for Alinea and I teased her (the sous chef) that it is an iconic thing and they could probably never stop doing it. Then I asked how they were selected to go to the guest’s tables to paint this course. Did they take turns…draw straws…assigned to do it…want to do it or hate to do it (most cooks don’t like the spot light in front of guests). She demurred from an honest reply and said something professional instead.


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Evaluate Restaurant Menu Based on Margin

Evaluate Restaurant Menus Based on Margin

As restaurants are preparing to re-open after the coronavirus shut down, the challenges are substantial and menu changes are inevitable. Many restaurants will not be able to survive the shut down itself, and of those which do re-open, the timeline for financial success or failure is going to be tighter than ever. One of the best practices for success is to evaluate restaurant menus based on margin and then promote your highest margin items by placing them strategically on your menu.

Although there are many factors which go into a restaurant’s success, one of the most important changes going forward will be the need to focus on margin when it comes to budget philosophy and menu item placement on the printed menu. Many larger operations have been doing this for years, but many smaller operations may not be aware of this vital strategy for increasing revenue and therefore increasing the odds of success.

The old paradigm for restaurant menu evaluation revolved around food cost %. The lower your food cost, the better you were perceived as doing. The new paradigm revolves around margin. Margin is what drives revenue to the bottom-line, it improves the chances for profitability. Food cost percentage is only valuable as a tool to compare the relative difference between theoretical food cost (based upon sales mix) and actual food cost. Having a high margin is more important than having a low food cost. If you don’t have a sales mix tool follow that link!

Now more than ever, in a post coronavirus world, restaurants need to know their margins on each menu item, evaluate their sales mix & margins on a monthly basis as part of their P&L process, and implement menu changes to strategically place the most profitable menu items into the “highest real estate spots” on their printed menus.

Below is a breakdown of the sales mix & margin analysis of a menu. It gives a good guide on how to evaluate restaurant menus based on margin and sales mix. You may also be able to see other important things to note, if so, please leave a comment for discussion.

Evaluate restaurant menu based on margin

Follow the blue numbers in the chart with the numbered paragraphs below

Important Note: The following analysis is based upon a menu design that has 2 columns per category (appetizers, entrees, etc). With a 2-column menu layout it is believed that there are 4 “high real estate” spots for each category…top left, top right, bottom left, and bottom right. Parts of this article’s analysis is based upon this belief.

Menus with a 1 column layout have 2 “high real estate” spots for each category…top and bottom.

In the image above notice the column header names: Menu Item, Units (sold), Popularity Rank, Menu Price… Margin Rank, etc. They will be referred to frequently.

1. The bright green highlighted items are the top 4 items as ranked by margin in each category (appetizers, entrees, etc). For instance, PRAWN MARY is ranked # 1 for Margin Rank because its Margin $ is $9.96, the highest for the Appetizers category. (See Menu Item Placement for why I’ve highlighted 4 items)

These are the items that generate the most revenue and should therefore be put into the “highest real estate” parts of your printed menu (as determined by common menu engineering concepts for the way eyes roam a menu). The light green highlighted items throughout the form are the items in the #5 Margin Rank slot. There are times when they are worth considering placing in the top 4 menu slots.

2. The light reddish highlighted items in the Margin $ column indicate items that have a lower than average Margin $ for that category. For Appetizers, $7.84 is the average margin for the category. The purpose of this is to try to keep your top sellers (Popularity Rank) out of the red, i.e., have a higher than average margin. Some items will inevitably be lower than the average, but they should not be your best sellers.

In this example, the ONION SOUP is the #2 seller but it has a below-average margin. You should at least raise it $1 from ($8 to $9 ) and see how sales go. Best case scenario would be to raise it $2 and still have it in the top 4 of sales. Alternately, since its Margin Rank (8) is low, perhaps part of its popularity is just its placement on your menu. If it is in one of the top real estate spots on your menu then “bury it” into a less visually captivating spot and put a higher margin item into that spot.

Again, the goal of this information is to evaluate restaurant menu top margin items and then place them into the best real estate spots on your menu, with the hopes that sales of these items will increase simply by using the techniques of menu engineering.

3. The CRAB CAKES offer another potential for revenue. They are already one of the top 4 margin producers. They are also the #1 seller, and they out-sell the #2 item by a significant amount. This suggests that you could raise the price on this item by $1 and not see an impact upon sales. Try it for several weeks or a month and monitor the results.

4. The PRAWN MARY has the #1 margin and is in the top 4 sellers for the appetizer category. It should therefore be placed in the best real estate spot on your menu, or perhaps highlighted or marked in some other way to draw your guest’s attention to it and thereby increase sales. This is one of the items you want your servers to push.

5. In example #5 look at the comparisons between ROASTED CLAMS (#5 Margin Rank) and the OYSTER FLIGHT (#2 Margin Rank). In this situation, the clams are almost in the top 4 margins, do have an above-average margin, and are already one of the best sellers (#3). And the oysters are in last place as far as popularity goes, by a long distance! Because of these factors, I would put the clams in the top 4 real estate menu slots, even though it is in the #5 Margin Rank.

6. The DINNER SALAD is the #2 seller in the SALADS category but it has the worst margin. This may be a situation where it is popular simply because it is the cheapest item in the category. Try raising the price and tracking its impact upon the DINNER SALAD sales. But also track the impact upon the percentage of the SALADS category sales (i.e. total salads sold) and also track your average check.

If you see that the percentage of SALADS sold stays about the same that’s good. But if the percentage drops and is not replaced with another appetizer or dessert sale, then you will see your guest check average drop because instead of purchasing 3 course (appetizer, salad & entrée or whatever), they have cut out the salad course and not replaced it with something else. This tracking process is a good way to evaluate restaurant menu trends and determine whether your changes have had the impact you are looking for.

7. The BERRY SALAD has both a below-average margin and very poor sales. This combination designates it as a “Dog” menu item and it should be 86’d from the menu. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the #4 Margin Rank slot (there are only 5 items in the SALADS category), if it is both a poor seller and has a low margin for the group, remove it and drive sales to the other higher margin salads.

Menu mix analysis for margin

7. Similar to the BERRY SALAD, the PISTACHIO HALIBUT and ROCK FISH are also on the chopping block to be removed from the menu due to the combination of poor margin and poor sales. Either remove them without a replacement to drive sales to your other items and save on prep time, or replace them with a new dish.

8. The NY STEAK is a perfect example of why a “bad” food cost % isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The steak has a 43.6% food cost, but a margin of $27.62 (the highest margin item on the menu). And it is the #2 seller of all entrees. This is the item which drives the most amount of revenue towards the bottom line.

If the food cost % budget for this restaurant is 39% then traditional menu analysis (which places the importance of food cost % above everything else) then the steak would be considered a failure, an item to either remove or raise the price on to bring it in line with the budget food cost. Raising the price to be close to a 39% would mean raising the price $5 and charging $54. Sales would probably drop, your food cost % would improve, but revenue would likely drop as guests purchase the less expensive items which also have a lower margin. This item is a great example of the intricacies of how to evaluate restaurant menu items by margin.

9. Similar to #5, SOCKEYE SALMON is in the #5 Margin Rank position but has over twice as many sales as the #4 Margin Rank item VENISON OSSO BUCO. Since the salmon is #6 as far as Popularity Rank goes, I probably would not try raising the price to get a better margin. But with twice the amount of sales I would consider putting it in the number 4 real estate spot on the menu. This is especially true since venison is a bit tricky to sell in most parts of the country. Its Popularity Rank is probably low simply because it is venison, not because of the recipe itself.

10. The top two best selling desserts are not in the top best Margin Rank items. Increase the price of both by $1 and monitor its impact upon sales.

11. 15% of guests purchased a dessert for this particular month. If you are getting more table turns by not up-selling desserts then it can be beneficial to “lose” a dessert sale during peak business periods. But if you have tables available then up-selling desserts will add revenue. Work with the servers to increase their check averages.

Also, post COVID-19 perhaps offering a “Desserts To Go” option on your menu could increase sales while giving guests the opportunity to feel safe by minimizing their time having to practice social distancing. Let them eat their dessert in the comfort of their own home.

Menu analysis for margin

12. Try to get rid of the OPEN FOOD key! Or at least minimize its use. If there are items which servers need to “open food” on a regular basis then add those items (along with the correct price) to your POS system. And make sure that a manager or supervisor have to authorize all OPEN FOOD transactions so a server can’t sell a lobster dinner to their friend for $10!

13. The theoretical food cost for this restaurant for this particular month was 37.2%. This means that no matter what the budget food cost was, there is no way that the actual could have been better than a 37.2% And in reality, the actual food cost % will be roughly between 1.5 to 3 points higher (38.7% to 40.2%) because the theoretical food cost does not include all the things which impact food cost (waste, theft, inventory errors, accounting errors, incorrect recipe pricing in costing software, over portioning, etc all).

Going through all these steps to evaluate restaurant menus takes a lot of time and commitment, but making this process a monthly habit will increase your profits and increase your restaurant’s chance of success. A good time to do this process is the first week of each month. The prior month’s inventory has been completed, your recipe database should be up to date with the most current invoice pricing, you can pull your sales from your POS system, do the sales mix work, and start the new month with modified menu placements based upon current pricing and customer trends.


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