The humble menu is one of the main things over which you have ultimate control as a restaurateur.
Providing you cater for your audience and its potential dietary requirements while taking into account external factors such as the economy and competition, the world is your oyster.
This is why designing your restaurant menu is so exciting. But it isn’t an easy task; it needs a great deal of strategy, imagination and foresight. Which is why we thought you might like a helping hand.
Our guide is designed for both first-time menu makers and those who need to revitalise their existing offering (did you know that 31% of restaurateurs update their menu on a monthly basis?).
So, grab your note taking tools of choice, and we’ll get started!
What (and who) to consider when developing your menu
Menus need to be immediately tempting, shareable and memorable. That’s quite a tall order, right?
Not if you do your homework, which is where we’re going to start today. These are the things you need to consider before you even think about the range of starters you’re going to offer.
What’s the concept?
We’ll assume that, by this stage, you have a concept for your restaurant. It might be ultra-simple, or something far more inventive, but whatever it is, the menu needs to follow suit.
What personality do you want your menu to have? How can it reflect the hard work you’ve put into the restaurant concept?
Use the same points of inspiration and difference you used for the venue on your menu, and consider how it’ll fit into your overall marketing plan.
Who will pick up the menu?
Put yourself in the mind of your ideal customer when they sit down and pick up your menu. What do you want to see? What don’t you want to see?
It’s an age-old marketing task but an incredibly important one. Write your customer persona. How much money are they willing to spend? What food and language will tempt them away from their own kitchen?
What’s the competition doing?
The last thing you want - or need - to do is simply copy the competition, but some competitive analysis is vitally important for menu development.
Grab the menus of your competitors and conduct some comparisons. Look at the size of each menu, the style, the way in which pricing is presented and the price points.
More importantly, make a list of what you like about their menus and the areas in which you think they’re missing a trick. Replicate the former and pounce on the latter.
How’s the economy?
The economy is constantly changing. Whether you’re developing a menu after a worldwide pandemic or during times of economic boom, your concept will need to take all of those external factors into account.
Make a list of the threats and opportunities inherent within the industry right now. How can you latch onto those opportunities with your menu? For instance, if things aren’t so great at the moment, what dining style is likely to capture the imagination of the largest audience?
Just remember to undertake the above pre-menu design strategies with others; don’t do it alone. If you don’t have a business partner, bring in a trusted friend or family member to get their input. Two sets of eyes are always better than one.
How to develop a restaurant menu from scratch
Strategy in hand, it’s time for the exciting bit. Let’s get that menu developed!
Step 1: Polish the concept
During the initial research above, you’ll have settled on a concept for your menu. Now, you need to flesh it out.
Think about what you want the menu to be known for. What can you offer that is going to be the best in the area? Is that a type of food or dining experience? From there, you can develop a flavour profile and structure which fits into that concept.
Step 2: Brainstorm dishes and list the core ingredients
In order to create a profitable menu, you’ll need a good handle on the ingredients for each dish.
This is why it’s important to list the core ingredients as soon as you start brainstorming dishes. You’ll quickly discover where you’re overcomplicating things and the least profitable dishes.
At this stage, it’s all about getting as many ideas down as possible. Remember to take into account dietary requirements by including gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options (depending on your target market).
Step 3: Whittle it down
You’ve probably got a pretty big list of dishes and their constituent ingredients to hand now, which means it’s time to whittle them down to your finished menu.
This won’t be easy, but there’s two things to keep in mind while you do so:
- suitability for your target market; and
Those two elements should help you settle on a manageable, attractive list of dishes which will serve your bottom line well.
Step 4: Get a handle on your supply chain
Now you know what you’ll be serving customers and the ingredients needed to do so, where are you going to find the latter?
This is where your supply chain comes in.
Your goal should be to keep the number of third parties within the chain to a minimum. So, create a list of potential suppliers, contact each one and conduct a beauty parade. Look at delivery logistics, pricing and their ethics.
Step 5: Cost out the menu items
It’s time to analyse the cost of each ingredient and the portions required for each dish.
Based on the costs from your targeted suppliers, can you price the dishes accordingly for your target market?
This is the point at which you may find yourself revisiting your suppliers list or the menu itself. And that’s fine; tweak until it makes sense both to your audience and your bottom line.
Step 6: Test it out
Running a ‘test kitchen’ is such an important part of menu development. It’s also the most exciting, because it’s when you get to see those dishes come to life.
Just bear in mind that you might surprise yourself - either way. Certain dishes may exceed your expectations while others, when presented ‘in the flesh’, simply won’t hit the mark. But that’s why you’re doing this; it’s your last chance to really fine tune the menu before it goes live for the public.
Just remember to make copious notes and bring several people in from your target market to try it out. Whatever you do, don’t do this alone!
How to design your menu
The best menus aren’t simply strategised, they’re designed, too. Our advice is to invest in the services of a designer to make your menu really ‘pop’, but you can make their job easier by undertaking the following simple tasks:
- write every menu item down onto a single page of A4 (use Word, or Google Docs to make this easy - you’ll be doing lots of jiggling and reorganising); - order the items logically into sections and divide them into each stage of the dining process;
- settle on a colour scheme (this’ll be easy if you’ve already undertaken your brand development);
- consider how to display pricing - do you want to make it a ‘feature’ of your menu or simply let it play second fiddle?;
- write descriptions for each dish (if you’re uncomfortable doing so yourself, paying a talented copywriter to pen the descriptions will be a great investment);
- think twice about adding photos - unless they really add to the design;
- proofread the final design both in print and digital (you may discover that you need a different format for these two platforms); and
- translate the menu for as many international audiences as possible.
Take one last look at that menu. This is your last chance to really assess its potential impact on your customers. Do the prices look right? Are they tempting enough? Do any particular dishes stand out like a sore thumb?
Don’t be afraid to make changes at this late stage!
One of the hardest aspects of menu design is pricing. Therefore, if you’re struggling with that element, we’ve got another guide which should prove very useful indeed.