by David Klemt

Chef Duffy x NRA Show: Live Menu Read

by David Klemt

Graffiti of crossed chef's knives underneath a baseball cap that reads, "D.E.G."

Chef Brian Duffy crushed it in Chicago at the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show.

We’re sharing tips from Chef Brian Duffy‘s live menu reads at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago.

These informative sessions are always standouts at industry trade shows and conferences. Both the operator who submits their menu anonymously and the audience gain valuable insight into menu programming and development.

In ten minutes or less, the Chef Duffy shares wisdom that’ll boost guest engagement; streamline and energize the kitchen; and help save on labor and food costs. And he won’t even Bar Rescue anyone who submits a menu. That is to say, no, he doesn’t yell at anyone while giving them tips for fixing their menu.

As Chef Duffy pointed out during his latest live menu reads, an operator’s menu has the potential to create generational wealth. However, it must be programmed properly for it to reach that potential.

So, ask yourself a question right now about your menu: Would you be proud for your menu, in its current state, to be plastered across a billboard? If not, I have another question for you: Why aren’t you taking the time to rectify that situation?

Your menu is your concept’s billboard. Treat it as such.

Oh, and one note for the NRA Show before we dive in: These sessions deserve at least two hours. One hour just isn’t enough given how impactful Chef Duffy’s live menu reads are for operators.

Menu Programming 101

There’s a logical reason why Chef Duffy is never short on menus to review. In fact, he addressed the situation directly at the 2024 NRA Show.

“Everybody has the same shit on their menu,” he stated frankly.

One explanation for why menus seem so similar makes a lot of sense.

“We’ve been told what to put on our menu buy our purveyors,” said Chef Duffy during his live menu read.

For the most part, operators are given the same product catalogs. These are circulated nationally, not regionally. So, everyone is ordering the same items. Clearly, Chef Duffy is fed up with this situation.

“We’re not here to do the same things that everyone else is,” declared Chef Duffy. “I don’t want to see that anymore.”

Menu #1: Sports Bar

This first menu featured a vibrant design that instilled a sense of patriotism. Chef Duffy theorized that he’d feel good spending time in this space, based on the menu’s appearance.

However, he wasn’t a fan of the layout of the menu. Taking up valuable real estate was a large catering ad, placed directly in the center.

In the top left were salads. “‘Add chicken to any salad,'” read Chef Duffy. “No shit. Why are we stopping at chicken? We can add anything to a salad.”

Based on his knowledge of food costs and the menu’s pricing, Chef Duffy deduced that the operator’s food costs were too high. In fact, he estimated that food costs were more than 31 percent. The burgers, he surmised, were running a 35-percent cost.

By the way, Chef Duffy always puts two slices of cheese on his burgers to fill the top out more. This delivers a more visually appealing experience, and a better bite.

On the topic of pricing, operators must maintain balance. For example, this first menu priced the addition of two slices of bacon at $3.50, but a chicken breast was six dollars. Two Chicago hotdogs cost more than a burger.

Menu #2: Breakfast Spot

Unfortunately, the operator committed one of Chef Duffy’s deadliest menu sins. There was a photo of the restaurant’s steak and eggs.

Worse, the image showed a rather large steak paired with a commodity egg. If this dish doesn’t leave the kitchen looking exactly like the picture, guests are going to be underwhelmed and unimpressed. Further, why are operators still trying to save money by buying commodity eggs?

However, there was a second deadly menu sin committed by the operator. Given the overall perception this menu delivered, the claim that at least one dish featured “wild-caught crab” didn’t ring true to Chef Duffy.

I’m confident in saying that I think lying on a menu may provoke Chef Duffy’s wrath more than a photo.

“If you lie to me on your menu, I will tear you apart,” he stated quite strongly.

That said, he did like the menu’s design (minus the photos). Even better, he recognized that there were several inventive spins on breakfast classics. Remember, “We’re not here to do the same things that everyone else is.”

Menu #3: Sports Bar

To be honest, I was expecting this type of menu. In fact, I thought it would be the first menu design encountered during this session.

Essentially, it was a collection of what everyone else has on their menus.

As an example, there were wings on the menu, and the sauces were anything but creative. Chef Duffy didn’t address it but they were also listed without commas, so they appeared to be one long, run-on sentence of a sauce.

The most glaring issues, however, were the pasta and the dessert. Both sections contained just a single item. That’s rightthere was an entire section dedicated to one pasta dish. Moreover, it’s not like there were a number of modifiers one could select to personalize their pasta.

This was the item description underneath the dessert section (designated as “Closers”): “Dessert of the week – $8 Please ask your server for details.” There’s a significant issue with that description and placement, as identified by Chef Duffy.

If a menu includes desserts, the guest is likely going to forget about them after they’ve ordered their starter and entree. It’s far more effective to have a dessert tray or cart and train your servers to suggest dessert when they touch the table toward the end of the meal.


Chef Duffy throws in more tips during a single menu read than most people would expect.

Below are some of the takeaways that make his live menu reads so insightful:

  • Only list name brands if they come from a local farm. This approach shows that an operator cares about supporting local producers and is part of the community.
  • Use the best ingredients for the specific concept.
  • If a restaurant features housemade buns for burgers and/or bread for sandwiches, they should offer a version as an appetizer. Really make this idea shine by also offering housemade specialty butters.
  • Operators that have chips on their menus should use the crumbles and “dust” to make breading for other items. After all, the chips have been paid for alreadyuse all of them.
  • It’s better and more impactful to have 25 items on a menu that are executed perfectly than 50 items that are executed poorly.
  • Chef Duffy doesn’t agree with omitting prices from menus. “Why? Are we negotiating? Are we negotiating before I place my order?”

Connect with Chef Duffy on Instagram, and learn more about him on the Duffified Experience Group website.

Image: Shutterstock. Disclaimer: This image was generated by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system.

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