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You do your research, crunch numbers and taste-test every recipe. Restaurant menu development combines the best of your culinary talents and practical kitchen skills. It’s exacting and exciting, and it builds a solid framework for impressing dining guests and increasing profits.
Whether you’re refreshing current menus or designing a brand new bill of fare, food menu development becomes a palette for creating, fine-tuning and finalizing recipe ideas. It’s a process that pairs best with an organized approach. Streamline your menu development procedures by first asking these basic questions.
Have You Covered Planning and Engineering?
You want a menu that offers a variety of dishes. Smart menu planning reflects your brand and satisfies customers. Back of house capabilities, food costs and pricing affect your bottom line. Smart menu engineering balances these factors. When you blend planning and engineering, you produce a menu that brings in business and ensures profits.
What Types of Menus Do You Need?
When they dine at QSR locations, customers expect classic static menus. Options rarely change, so menu familiarity is part of the experience. Other restaurant settings might call for one of more of these menu types.
• A la Carte Menus – Dining room guests enjoy the flexibility of selecting individually priced a la carte items, and they appreciate mixing and matching entrees and sides.
• Prix Fixe Menus – Special occasions, holidays and private in-house events are more easily managed when guests have multiple menu options at a fixed price.
• Du Jour Menus – This versatile format allows you to customize and change up menus on a daily basis with everything from fresh soups to housemade desserts.
• Cycle Menus – The seasonal availability of signature ingredients like premium produce and fresh seafood turn weekly and monthly cycle menus into dependable customer favorites.
Specialty menus most often cover brunch, happy hour and late-night dining. Wine and cocktail menus might also have a place in your restaurant.
How Many Items Should Be on Your Restaurant’s Menu?
Before you finalize this part of menu planning, closely consult your back of house staff. Discuss service logistics from prep duties and cooking times to equipment availability. Make sure you have enough kitchen personnel and cooking stations to handle all your menu items.
Don’t overwhelm dining room guests either. Too many choices can turn their anticipation into confusion. The number of menu items you feature depends on many factors, but industry standards make sense. Most restaurants keep the kitchen organized and customers happy with no more than seven or eight dishes in each menu section.
10 Tips for Successful Restaurant Menu Development
Once you’ve worked out the basics, you’re ready to fine-tune your restaurant’s menus. Details cover everything from targeting your market and double-checking food costs to creating signature dishes. These 10 tips for menu development can help make the most of your business and culinary talents.
1. Cater to Your Market
You already know what sells best in your restaurant, so look for innovative ways to refresh customer favorites. If you’re opening a new location, research and identify your target demographics. When you know your market, you can design menus that cater to a cross-section of consumer tastes regardless of trends that come and go.
2. Out-Serve the Competition
Stop by restaurants near your location, and see what they offer. Pay close attention to those promoting dishes similar to yours. If the competition serves barbecue, out-serve them with smoked side dishes. If they feature craft cocktails, upgrade your bar service with table-side cart mixology.
3. Brainstorm With a Consultant
Restaurant consulting firms are great resources for menu development guidelines. Their expertise covers everything from recipe testing and nutritional analysis to food photography and graphic design. Food service consultants can also give you an unbiased perspective on favorite in-house ideas.
4. Reach Out for Recipes
The internet is ideal for recipe research with countless portals offering up every type of cuisine. Think of it as a digital buffet for sampling fresh ideas and picking up twists on traditional dishes. Sign up with online forums dedicated to the restaurant industry, and get involved in creative exchanges with other professionals who understand the business.
5. Strike a Balance With Variety
Balance and variety are basics in all menu development guidelines. Whether you’re designing a root-to-stem theme or opening a steak house, don’t let one cooking style dominate. Find a dozen ways to delight vegan customers with Brussels sprouts, and satisfy guests who love rib eyes with hearty Caesar salads featuring premium romaine hearts.
6. Stay Seasonably Flexible
Give your menu room to adjust to the seasons so that you can offer the calendar’s freshest choices from produce to seafood. Consumers appreciate and celebrate seasonal specialties, so develop adaptable dishes like a vegan shepherd’s pie. Craft a paella recipe that tempts appetites with different deep-sea harvests from changing seasons.
7. Stick With Quality Sourcing
Successful food menu development depends on a reliable supply of quality products. When you partner with established produce companies and food vendors, you’re assured of year-round access to the best ingredients. That confidence lets you stretch your culinary imagination as you design new menu dishes.
8. Do the Math at Least Twice
It’s easy to get caught up in the creative process of menu development, but don’t let that focus divert your attention away from important numbers. As a restaurant professional, you understand food costs and pricing. Apply the formulas to each new dish, make adjustments as needed, and always run your numbers a second time.
9. Finalize the Details With Staff
Work closely with front and back of house staff so that everyone understands the details of each dish. From prep and cook times to final plating and garnish, stage operations as though you were running a test kitchen. Document ingredients, list measurements, and lock in the details that make a dish unique. Celebrate your finalized menu with an in-house staff tasting party, and be sure to invite favorite regular customers.
10. Design Your Menu for Your Customers
When they open it up, let them feast with their eyes. As they scan the selections, let them navigate with ease. The right layouts, photographs and even fonts can elevate your restaurant menu from a printed list to a memorable experience. Consult with graphic arts professionals who make sure your restaurant’s menus are designed for your customers.
Growing and Shipping the Best
If you develop it with good taste and fair pricing, they will come. Guests respond to great menu planning with loyalty to your restaurant and compliments on social media. It’s a process that deserves revisiting from time to time too so that you can track and incorporate trends that keep guests happy.
We’re happy to do our part by growing and shipping the finest premium produce available for your new menu ideas. Hitchcock Farms proudly stands as your partner in satisfying customers with fresh flavors and healthy choices. As one of California’s largest produce companies, we’re committed to always serving you with our very best.
Dan Holt is an experienced produce professional who started in the industry as a quality assurance inspector in the early 1990s and leads sales at Hitchcock Farms as Vice President. Prior to joining Hitchcock Farms, Dan enjoyed success in organic, specialty and conventional produce and with independent operators, regional and national chains in North America and abroad. Dan continues his passion in produce through collaborative inspiration and promoting healthy and sustainable food.