This article is designed for an Independent restaurant startup, and not an existing proven restaurant concept, or a restaurant franchise that is providing franchise style operating systems. In designing your menu, consider why you have selected the menu items and how they relate to your service system; be it fast food, fast casual or fine dining. I.e. making a Caesar salad table side does not work in a fast food restaurant. The menu and your service system are the foundation of your restaurant and must be compatible. Begin with what you personally feel would be the right menu for your concept. Don’t focus only on what is practical and functional. By focusing only on the practical aspects of a menu, you will lose inspiration and creativity. Only after you have settled on what you think are the most appealing items for your menu is it time to consider their practicality.
Cost of product is a main consideration. For example, if your concept is fast-casual, then your price point will probably be in the $6.00 to $14.00 range. But since the wholesale cost of lobster or a prime cut of New York steak takes you out of the fast-casual ballpark, they would not be compatible with the pricing of your menu. Your pricing must reflect your decor and service. A high-end gourmet menu would be completely out of place in a fast food outlet, with its simple decor and speedy service.
Another consideration is the skill level of your employees. If you plan on opening a fast-food or fast-casual restaurant, you need to hire kitchen personnel whose skills are commensurate with a pay scale driven by your menu price points. Conversely, a gourmet, table-side service restaurant, with higher menu price points, requires a higher level of employee skills and experience, and obviously a more appropriate pay scale.
The equipment needed for certain menu items is an important factor. The tools and equipment for a restaurant may differ from those of a construction company, but both are equally critical to getting the job done correctly. Your menu will dictate the needed equipment and its related cost. For example, do you need a grill, or a deep fat fryer? If so, then you will need to factor in the cost of a grease trap and a vented hood with fire suppression equipment. This can easily add $25,000 to $50,000 to your equipment package.
Inventory requirements are another essential factor. In designing a menu, how you determine its offerings is critical to controlling your food and labor costs. Consider the number of items on the menu: the more you offer the more labor hours it takes to prep and serve each dish in a timely manner. An excess in inventory is money sitting on the shelf. And, the more menu items and ingredient inventories you have to account for, the more waste you are likely to incur. An important corollary of this – think how to wheel menu items together. This means using the same food products in as many different menu selections as possible. In my experience, I have found that smaller is better. What many neophytes in this business fail to realize when designing a menu is that more menu choices are not necessarily better. In fact, the more choices offered, the more they will cannibalize one another.
An effective way to add menu items while effectively controlling food costs is to offer daily specials. This way you can continue to offer a variety of selections that will keep your menu appealing. In preparing specials, be careful to prepare just enough, so that you will run out by the end of the day. This will help to control unnecessary waste.
You cannot create a menu that will be all things to all people, so focus on what you specialize in. Success is predicated on having the best, not the most. A safe menu is one based on classic, traditional foods, to which you add your own unique twist. People have a comfort level with familiar foods. So, keep it simple, especially if you are new to the restaurant business. Quality of product and presentation will always be the foundation of your menu. Next is speed and efficiency of service. The average customer in the US rates speed of service highly, and considers it part of the overall value received. Smart menu choices are essential to a successful restaurant, but equally important is the presentation of your menu. The menu is what defines your restaurant. Customers browse through the menu and, with the help of a knowledgeable server, can make a well-informed selection.
The menu, however, is more than an information tool-it’s also a valuable sales tool. Major considerations must be taken into account in menu design and production. Here are some time-tested rules to follow:
1. It must be functional and easy to use. A menu that is too big can be unwieldy for a customer to handle.
2. Your menu should convey the essence of your concept. Is it formal and sophisticated, or is it meant to be more fun and informal?
3. The menu should be integral to the customer’s entire dining experience and fit the restaurants intended ambiance.
4. Food and beverage descriptions are an important factor in your menu. More consumers today are interested in the details of what they are ordering. They don’t need paragraphs of flowery words when ordering a steak, but its size and cut are essential; and some well-chosen, mouth-watering descriptions can seal the deal. Use descriptive adjectives for maximum appetite appeal. The more creative you are, the more you enhance your menu offerings, making them more desirable. Paint a brief picture in your customers’ minds with descriptive words like “steaming,” “chilled,” “garden fresh,” “succulent,” “juicy,” etc.
5. Feature profitable and customer favorites with a picture of the item, highlighted by a brief description to stimulate the taste buds. Think of the clever merchandising that Starbucks uses on their menu boards-just the names of their coffee drinks suggest a tantalizing treat.