Why is a successful menu so important?
It is your marketing tool; it sets the tone and culture for your restaurant and it has an impact on your bottom line.
Think of the restaurants you have been to that you like the most and will probably visit again. I am sure part of the experience was the great customer service, but the reason you'll go again is because there was something on the menu you want to eat again. Something you crave that makes you get in the car and go back there. This is what you want in your own menu.
There are a few things to keep in mind when planning your menu. Food cost is of course one of the most important factors. Your food costs should be around 30%. This will allow you to buy higher quality ingredients and still make a profit. You can probably drive that number down but keep in mind, “What does it taste like?”.
In the article “Tips for Writing Your Menu” we talk about kitchen space and the feasibility for the menu items prep area and time to produce, storage and cooking equipment to make the item. These are all factors in planning a successful menu.
Pricing should be in keeping with your competition. So, do your research. You don’t want to be priced too much higher or lower than other restaurants with your similar theme. Both send a message you may not want to send, so keep in step with the competition.
You also don’t need 15 appetizers to be successful. Especially when you are starting out, pick a few things you do REALLY well. Add a couple of traditional menu items and healthy menu items for balance. Make sure your key ingredients are used at least 3 times across the menu. This will ensure proper rotation of stock and the ability to keep ingredients fresh.
Let’s explore design. This will be the single most successful way to explain your culture, concept and set the tone of your restaurant. When choosing a design, less is more. Hungry people do not want to wade through long descriptions or pages and pages of a menu. This might work if you are a diner, but if you aren’t, don’t create a menu like one.
A single page with clear font, easy to understand descriptions with sizzle words and a fair price point will go a long way. Including beverages and desserts on the back is acceptable and encouraged. Don’t add your catering list. Simply say “Catering Menu Available” or "We Offer Catering”. Make a kid’s menu and make it a separate menu and provide something they can draw or color on.
Have a lunch menu and a dinner menu, but not necessarily on the same page if it requires cramming to much information in. The best lunch menus offer a handful of dinner menu items at reduced price and a reduced portion size. They aren’t a duplication of the entire menu.
Specials are just that. They don’t need to be listed on the menu. Like catering you can simply say something about them, “Ask about our Daily Specials” or “Ask your server about our Chef’s Specials”. Another option is to have a smaller menu that is dedicated to your specials only sort of as a hand out in addition to the regular menu.
Keep in mind, all menu designs should be centered around your concept and culture. The menu should say who you are and what you do. Look for the proper font and graphics to embellish this message.
Planning and designing your menu is a fun part of starting a new restaurant. There are several software programs available currently, as well as menu design experts. Hiring a graphic artist is another option. Whichever path you choose enjoy the experience because if you’re enjoying it, chances are so will everyone else.