Making a menu for a restaurant requires more than culinary knowledge. Several elements must come together and be planned behind that list of dishes that customers explore to choose their favorite dish. Learn here what to consider before, during and after designing a menu.
Building a menu is a process that involves many factors: recipes, plating, branding, availability of ingredients, costs, convenience for mise en place and service are all points to analyze. We strongly recommend to start a draft version and re-work it as a team before coming to a final design.
This is the Chef’s area of expertise, though ideally, will be co-created with colleagues and some guinea pigs shortlisted to give constructive criticism. To begin the creative process, visit some markets and see the availability of seasonal ingredients. Also, find recipes, photos and videos on the Internet or consult cookbooks and magazines. It is also a good idea to visit the competitors and see what they offer, how they plate the food, how much it costs and how long it takes to arrive to the table. Based on this research you can make a list of potential dishes. The mix must be balanced and contemplate various options that clients seek: entrees, meat, poultry, fish, pasta, salads, desserts, alcoholic beverages, etc.
The ultimate gastronomic trends often target small menus with already combined dishes composed with a main piece of protein, sauce, garnishes and good plating. Having a short menu allows to keep a small, easy-to-manage inventory that helps ensuring the quality of the ingredients.
If possible, try to include a healthy and vegetarian option and gluten free, free range or organic ingredients. This is not only for people whit specific needs, it is a trend that increasingly expands around the world.
The selection of dishes should be aligned to the style and personality of the restaurant and the customers segment that it aims at. This will determine the level of sophistication, the presentation, the selection of ingredients, etc. In any case just get down to work, and start cooking and trying different combinations to find the right recipe. Do not forget to record the process taking notes, photos and making drawings of how the plates should look like.
COSTS AND INVENTORY
An important aspect in menu designing is the costs that determine the future profitability of a dish. In order to know them, you’ll need recipes and a price list from your suppliers. Calculate them carefully, getting the unit cost of each one and consider the price at which you can sell them to understand if those numbers make sense or it’s best to rethink the recipes and reduce costs.
Prices are usually set by the market: what customers are willing to pay. With this in mind, costs are usually somewhere between 20 and 50% of the final price of the dish.
Remember that all the ingredients in your dishes are your new inventory list. For this reason, you should also think about expiration dates, the availability in each season, price changes, bromatological management, etc.
You can make the most of every ingredient by designing a use for all the “waste”; For example, if you serve a cheese board that generates many uneven cuts, you can make a sauce, salad or a pizza with them on top. Also, all bones, pieces of meat, fish, seafood and vegetable scraps can be used for cooking stock or a base for soups, sauces or even slow cooked meat.
MISE EN PLACE
Mise en place planning is the key to a successful customer service. Within the creation of the menu you should consider how to deliver each dish during the shifts and to think how the whole week is gonna work in terms of food preparation tasks. The more steps you can have done in advanced, the fewer runs will take place in the kitchen and all staff can work harmoniously providing better experiences for customers. Lasagnas, quiches, pies and soups, can be kept ready in the fridge or freezer and just warmed up before serving. Fish, seafood and meat usually require to be cooked when ordered except for slow cooked meat. If the selection of meals in the menu has a good balance between these two ways to deliver, you can ensure a smooth operation of the kitchen. You should also consider available resources for cooking: the number of chefs and assistants, the size of the kitchen, the amount of pots, pans and tins, ovens, stoves and deep fryers.
Make some tests asking your chefs to prepare the selected dishes and measure times. Help them see what other steps of the recipes can be ready in advance and think together with them how to unblock bottlenecks that may arise.
El Menú o Carta
THE ACTUAL MENU
Once you thought of the food you’ll offer, it’s time to think about the physical design of the menu. This is another element of restaurant’s brand building, so it must be carefully designed by a professional. Nowadays some restaurants deliver a single sheet as a symbol of minimalism and dynamism that indicates how new and fresh everything is. This is specially handy for seasonal menus.
In any case, menus must always be clean, nice and consistent with the good service provided in all other respects. Some tips can help you build a menu aimed at sales and profitability:
- To focus attention on the food and not at the prices, you can toggle the alignment between a plate and another. That way the customer’s eye will not compare prices. Also you can remove the “$” symbol and use numbers that end with 5 or 9 causing a feeling of lower price.
- Make boxes with dishes you want to turn into best sellers. You can use just this graphic resource or indicate that this is the chef’s specialty, the dish of the house or the star of the season. To find out what dishes to promote, check Menu Engineering section in your Dashboard. If you plan to include photos, also use this tool to know which ones to show.
- Use a legible font and a size of at least 12 points. You can use 11 points for the price.
- Suggest wine pairings with certain dishes or drinks boosting its sales and improving consumer’s dining experience.
- Keep a design that’s simple and easy to read, logical and segmented: begin with entrees, continue with mains and end with desserts and drinks. Help to decide easily.
- Use attractive and evocative descriptions that make think of flavors and textures. It is not the same to say “lettuce salad, chicken and bread cubes” that “Caesar crispy cos lettuce, herbs marinated chicken and croutons drizzled with Italian parmesan”.
THE STRATEGY BEHIND THE MENU
As we said earlier, a menu is not just the list of the chef’s favorite dishes. It is a combination of factors that affect the entire business. For this reason, it is important to pay attention to the many elements that play important roles in the process and document them as strategies, so you can measure them and make changes if necessary. Some questions you can ask yourself are:
- How is the service running? How long it takes for the plates to get to the table? What takes the longest and why? How and why bottlenecks occur? How to improve this now or my next menu?
- What has been most popular with customers and why? What dishes have not sold enough, and why? What led to the success of the best-selling dish? What is the relationship between popularity and profitability of each dish?
- How I can further reduce costs without compromising quality?
Your Eskalab Dashboard is an excellent tool to answer these questions automatically. Use the strategies offered by Menu Engineering and Inventory Forecast periodically to easily outbid your restaurant.
We hope you found this blog post helpful. If you want to receive more useful information for restaurants please subscribe.
Want to improve your restaurant’s profitability? Email us!