One of the key elements that can contribute to a restaurant's success is its menu. A thoughtfully designed menu not only showcases the culinary offerings of the restaurant but also serves as a fundamental sales tool (right alongside well-trained and experienced staff), as we know from an article about menu engineering.
In this article, we will present essential aspects related to creating a restaurant menu that will guide you step by step and help you build a succesful menu.
We sometimes experience situations where the menu concept comes first, before defining the concept of the restaurant. Indeed, it happens that the type of food (e.g., small dishes perfect for sharing) inspires the creation of a unique concept. However, in most cases, the first step is to establish the concept. This way, the menu stems from the concept's assumptions, not the other way around. An essential element of the concept, as well as the business plan, is defining the target audience, the guests who will visit your restaurant and to whom your offer will be addressed. The starting point may be the location where you plan to open your establishment. If there are already several Italian restaurants nearby, opening another one may not be a good idea (unless you have a strong belief that you will stand out from your competition). Adjusting the menu to the target audience can significantly impact Guest satisfaction and your restaurant's performance.
To create the perfect menu, you need to pay attention to your Guests' needs. To do this, it is necessary to determine the target audience, as we mentioned in the previous step. One of these needs is to provide a selection of vegetarian dishes on the menu. According to current statistics, over 68% of Poles claim to choose meatless meals when eating out. This trend is noticeable not only in Poland but worldwide. While considering this, it is also worth consideration whether your Guests will be foreigners (e.g., your place is located in the city center, hence frequented by tourists). Restaurants specializing in vegetarian cuisine have been enjoying unwavering popularity for several years. However, when opening a restaurant that serves meat and fish dishes, you can still meet the expectations of vegetarian visitors. To do this, one should include several vegetarian (and vegan) options in the menu, preferably in each category, such as appetizers, main courses, and side dishes. You can also increase the overall amount of vegetables in the dishes.
Another example is a children's menu. Before taking on the challenge of creating such a menu (hitting the right notes with children's tastes can be a real challenge), it is worth asking yourself whether your restaurant will be frequented by families with children. If your restaurant is intended to be a family bistro located near a residential area, a children's menu may be a good idea.
Restaurant concepts are often based on a specific cuisine (e.g., Polish) or a specific dish (e.g., Neapolitan pizza). When creating a unique concept, it is essential to define what will set it apart in terms of culinary offerings. The uniqueness of the concept can be determined by choosing a flagship dish or signature dish that aligns with the overall concept. There is also the possibility of creating a menu in a way that offers diversity and does not rely on flagship dishes. However, from experience, we know that every menu has its hits, and these are often dishes that Guests come back for. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain the quality of these dishes because returning Guests want what made them come back to your restaurant.
Diversity in the culinary offerings can be ensured even with a short menu, which, by the way, has many advantages. Keeping menu short streamlines kitchen operations and significantly aids in maintaining the quality of the dishes. Some restaurants change their menus seasonally, which is very attractive to Guests. However, this approach requires additional effort in terms of developing and testing new dishes and their cost calculations (we will address the latter in the next step). An alternative may be enriching the regular offering with dishes based on seasonal products or adding them as seasonal extras. This will enhance the menu's attractiveness with relatively little effort and cost – seasonal products are often cheaper and flavourful.
With a preliminary menu outline, the next step is to estimate its cost. This article serves as a reminder of how to calculate food costs. While precise calculations can be time-consuming, they are highly useful when setting the prices of menu items. However, this is not mandatory. More accurate calculations will come later, for example, when establishing a consistent relationship with suppliers. Speaking of suppliers, when choosing a supplier, it is worth focusing on the quality-to-price ratio rather than just the price. An approximate cost of a dish can be calculated by considering the main ingredients and their average purchase price. Ongoing control of food costs will indicate whether price updates are advisable in the future. If the calculated food cost for one of the dishes is too high, the recipe can be modified, by, for example, replacing the most expensive ingredient with another. At this stage, the most important thing is to find out whether your menu is not too costly, as this can affect your restaurant's profitability.
Knowing the approximate food costs of dishes, it is time to determine the margins, but their value does not have to be the same for each dish. Why? Well, it is not about precisely determining the margin that will guarantee profits within the first months of operation. A good indicator may be the average margin value and/or the average food cost. When setting the final prices, we should also consider the target audience (see Step 1). With a variety of margin values for the dishes, it is crucial to highlight those with high margins in your menu; in other words, they should stand out. The dishes with the highest margins can be written in a different font, framed, or labeled, which may additionally attract Guests' attention.
There is a common belief that creating a menu simply involves graphic design and crafting an aesthetically pleasing list of dishes and drinks. While design is a crucial aspect, it should be preceded by other steps we discussed earlier. A well-designed menu facilitates Guest navigation and decision-making (let's not hesitate to say we have an influence on this). The most common method of organizing dishes in a menu is grouping similar items and assigning them to categories (e.g., main courses). Sometimes, the absence of information about portion size can make it challenging for Guests to choose, so it is worth considering. This also plays a significant role in preventing food waste. Descriptions of dishes are equally important, as they can provide information about the main ingredients, the origin of the products, spiciness level, or preparation method (e.g., confit duck), giving Guests a better idea of what to expect. A well-constructed dish description stimulates the senses and can encourage selection, thereby aiding in sales. If your menu includes vegetarian and vegan options or other items deserving special attention, they should be clearly labeled accordingly. When designing the menu, it is also essential to consciously choose font style and size, colors, and the overall structure (e.g., single or double-sided menu) to create a visually appealing design that aligns with your restaurant's concept. The durability of the menu and its printing are equally important considerations. We must remember that menus wear out as they pass from hand to hand, and printing incurs a cost. For frequently changing menus, it may not be worthwhile to invest in expensive paper and intricate graphics. A minimalist approach could be a better solution. This is just one example, and there can be as many good solutions as there are concepts.
Creating a restaurant menu is an art that requires an understanding of the target audience's needs and the unique identity of your restaurant. A carefully composed menu that reflects the restaurant's concept, uses high-quality ingredients, engages Guests, and takes estimated costs and design elements into account will allow you to create a culinary experience that will draw Guests to your restaurant.
By following these guidelines, you will be able to create a succesful menu for your restaurant. Periodically review your menu to remove unpopular dishes and replace them with new ones. It is also a good idea to organize a tasting panel whenever you make changes to the menu. Seeking feedback from trusted individuals is a wise approach, much like testing a prototype before it hits the market. Analyze Guest preferences and suggestions, and don't be afraid to make changes!
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