Creating your menu

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There are two parts to creating your restaurant’s menu. The first, deciding what dishes will be included and the second, creating the physical menu that your customers will read.

This is probably one of my most enjoyable aspects of opening a new restaurant – deciding what dishes make the cut and make it onto the final menu (not to mention taste testing!!). In your initial stages of planning your restaurant from concept to completion, the final menu can seem way off but you can start planning your menu in the early days, even without having hired a chef.

When deciding on my restaurants concept (more here), I always have an idea of what kind of dishes I’d like to be served and I make a list, but ultimately, I do not finalise the menu until I have hired a head chef and consulted with them.

Now I’m not a chef by trade but as mentioned, I usually always have a draft idea
of a menu in my head, but only once I’ve hired a head chef does the final menu come about. I always let the head chef have their input so they can add their creative flare, point out weaknesses like possible time constraints, heavy prep time, seasonality of ingredients, or extra kitchen tools required. I would NEVER, I repeat never, finalise a menu without consulting with the head chef. You’re setting yourself up for disaster if you do so.

Some extra points you’ll want to think about when creating your menu:

  1. How will my menu differ from similar restaurants in the area?
    You don’t want to serve exactly the same dishes as the place down the street, you need a menu that sets you apart from your competitor.
  2. Are there any similar items on my menu that my competitors serve?
    I know you don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so if you’re a café serving brunch there’s a high chance you’re going to have Eggs Benedict on the menu, as does your competitor. This is fine. Despite point #1 above, you can have a few similar dishes on your menu, however I’d always add something different to the dish. For example, instead of serving standard Bacon Eggs Benedict like the café down the road, I’d switch it up and serve it with smoked ham hock instead of bacon and an apple cider hollandaise instead of your ‘everyday’ hollandaise. Minor changes like this will help someone decide to come to your restaurant vs your competitor’s.
  3. How do my prices stack up against my competitors?
    Keeping on the café thought process, if you’re charging $18 for Eggs Benedict and your competitor is only charging $14 you best be including something amazing on your plate of Eggs Benny to justify the price difference. If you’re both serving the same dish of equal ingredients and taste customers will almost always opt for the cheapest price. For more on pricing your menu check out “How do you price your menus” on my FAQ page.

Once you’ve finalised your menu you’ll want to start working on the design of the physical menu. This is super important because this is where you get to really ‘sell’ your dishes. Presentation and layout is everything but there is more to think about than just that. Here’s what you need to consider when creating the design of your menu:

  • Colours and Font
    The theme of your menu should reflect the theme of your restaurant. For example, a Latin themed restaurant would look great with vibrant colours and a bold font, however those same vibrant colours would look out of place on an Italian or French themed restaurant menu. When deciding on a font you need to, not only think about your theme (ie, a French menu might have a script font whereas a pub might have less formal font) but you also need to be weary of choosing a font that is too small or hard to read. You want to make it easy for your customers to peruse the menu and make their decisions.
  • Sections
    Check out any menu in the hospitality industry and they’re likely to all follow a similar pattern; entrée, main, dessert, drinks. You want your menu to be easy to read and simple to follow. Separate sections with bold headings, a border or boxes. I don’t like to use any images on my menus, aside from the restaurant’s logo, I find this takes away from the descriptions of dishes and makes the menu appear ‘busy’. I also like the two column approach when designing the menu, but one column works well too. Any more than two columns and your menu can begin to look like a newspaper (which is a no, no!).
  • Descriptions
    The descriptions of each of your dishes should make the reader’s mouth water. If you’ve sourced your ingredients from a particular area, note that on the menu – “Coffin Bay Oysters” sounds much more descriptive than just “Oysters”. If something is free range or organic, be sure to mention it. Descriptions should only be one or two sentences, no longer. Include gluten free and vegetarian notations if applicable. Your staff can always answer any other dish related questions should they arise.

menu-tastingYou can design and produce the menu yourself to save some money but if you’re not overly creative or computer literate, then I’d recommend hiring someone to design your menu. You’ll still need to think about the above aspects and convey these to the designer. I always get my menus designed and professionally printed. Whatever you do, don’t use Microsoft Word and plain A4 paper, it looks cheap and nasty. For a cheaper design option look at Vista Print, they have a good selection of basic layouts to choose from, they print for you and are reasonably priced.

Hopefully you’ve found this blog post informative. If there’s anything more you’d like to know you can comment below or leave a message on my Facebook page.

Manna