Building a menu is a big task for a chef.
Be it an entirely new menu or an update, there are several factors to keep in mind when designing a menu.
Here’s a good analogy to keep in mind: a dish is to a menu what a song is to an album!
Each must stand on their own, but they also need to flow together cohesively.
If a song is a dish, where to begin?
Even smaller than a dish, of course.
This is the first factor to keep in mind with menu design!
If you have, for example, nachos with braised pork on them, then a smart move would be to create an entree or a sandwich with braised pork as well.
Using ingredients throughout the menu but in different ways will help keep food costs under control and create a sense of theme to your menu.
However, don’t limit your menu based on this too much.
If you need radishes for just one dish, get radishes for just one dish!
The key is to have many dishes utilizing some of the same ingredients, but adding a few extras for single dishes only is a great way to add variety to your menu.
Similarly, a consistent type of cuisine is important.
That’s not to say you can’t have egg rolls on your American food menu, just that a folk singer who adds some accordion elements to their songs will have more success than one who branches out and creates entire songs with an accordion.
It’s about recognizing the types of dishes people enjoy at your restaurant, and sticking to that theme with occasional variations and experiments.
While fusion cuisine is popular in larger cities, the geographic location of your restaurant is important for deciding just how experimental you can be without alienating your customer base.
Another important factor is variety, in this case, do you offer a variety of dishes to appease most any customer?
For example, an Italian restaurant may opt to offer an egg-less Caesar dressing to ensure someone with an egg allergy has at least one option on the menu that doesn’t require extensive modifications.
Similarly, offering a few dishes without meat to appeal to vegetarian and vegan customers is good practice.
Keep in mind, however, that you still want to stick with your theme.
It may seem like a good idea to offer a tofu burger just to cater to vegans and vegetarians, but if your whole menu is pasta dishes and pizzas, it’s going to look wildly out of place, not to mention add too much to your food cost.
The last and very important factor to keep in mind is quantity.
How many dishes are on your menu? Are any of those dishes just slight variations of one dish?
It’s better to offer one complete dish with pre-selected sides (e.g. filet mignon with roasted potatoes and broccoli rabe) than it is to have multiple options for each part of the dish.
Customers don’t want or need as much choice as some restaurants offer, and in many cases this works to the detriment of the restaurant.
A customer is much more likely to choose a dish that is complete on its own than pore over the menu trying to decide which cut of meat, which sides, which salad dressing, etc.
Keep your menu simple and let it stand on its own; the few customers who don’t want a specific side will have no trouble asking for a substitution.
And if you notice a side is frequently being substituted for another, it’s time to make a change.
Further reading: What is Spaghettini?
While it’s a major assignment with many elements to keep in mind, creating a menu is also extremely rewarding and a great deal of fun.
It allows a chef to fulfill their creative ambition while also contributing to the growth of the business.
Updating a menu is a great way for an established restaurant to retain their relevance and draw in new customers, while a completely new menu is great for restaurants that are struggling and need to revitalize their business.
A smart, sophisticated, and tactfully composed menu is sure to boost business at any restaurant!