How to Create a Restaurant Menu?

A restaurant’s menu is its biggest magnet. In order to build a loyal group of patrons, restaurants need to create a unique, fairly priced menu that offers fresh and reliable food and drink options.

According to a survey by Harris Poll, 85% of Americans cite the quality of food as a key reason for choosing a restaurant, while 69% said the same about the price of food. This means that the type, value and quality of food is ultimately what the majority of diners consider primary motivators for deciding where to go out to eat.

When opening a restaurant, the process of creating a menu can differ drastically. Franchisees might have little-to-no say in their menu, which could be dictated by corporate offices and franchisors. However, for independent restaurant owners opening up a new location, there’s endless work that goes into choosing food vendors, selecting menu items, designing dining room menus, promoting the menu online and adjusting a menu for profitability over time.

Plus, it’s clear that off-premise dining is here to stay – with 53% of all adults saying takeout and delivery is “essential” to the way they live. Restaurants need to be equipped to offer takeout and delivery to appeal to these guests. While this means kitchens need to be stocked with to-go containers, it also means the restaurant’s menu might need to be built and optimized specifically for these options.

It’s clear that restaurants need to build a diligently planned, designed, priced and optimized menu to check off all of these boxes – and this post will explain how to do just that.

How to Create a Restaurant Menu from Scratch?

Honor the Restaurant’s Concept

The first step in creating a restaurant menu through the menu maker is taking a step back and acknowledging the intended concept for the restaurant. To start, it’s important for a restaurant to focus on doing a few things extremely well.

For example, a new pizzeria should focus most of its effort on sourcing high-quality pizza ingredients, creating unique pizza recipes and topping combinations and securing necessary kitchen equipment to cook perfect pizzas.

Once that step is taken care of, the pizzeria can focus on two other areas: supplements and tradeoffs. Restaurants should supplement their core cuisine with appropriate other dishes. For a pizzeria, that might include salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes.

At this stage, restaurants should also take time to recognize their tradeoffs – or menu items they are purposely avoiding to hone in on their concept. For a new pizzeria, tradeoffs may include breakfast foods, signature cocktails or baked goods. No restaurant can be everything to every diner, and the larger the menu gets, the more difficult it can be to streamline kitchen operations and determine which dishes customers truly love.

Break Down the Menu by Section

Once the restaurant knows where to focus its menu, it becomes easy to categorize different dishes into sections on the menu. A high-end steakhouse, for instance, might create menu buckets for:

– Apps & Starters

– Soups & Salads

– Chicken Entrees

– Steak Entrees

– Seafood Entrees

– Pasta Entrees

– Desserts

There are two ways to go about this step. First is to think through which of these sections the restaurant’s ideal menu would have, then add certain dishes to them. The other way is to look at the dishes envisioned for the restaurant, divide them into categories and further build out sections from there.

Regardless, categorizing a menu not only helps customers find what they want to eat easier, it’s also beneficial to management. Choosing ingredients, managing inventory and eventually reporting on food sales becomes significantly easier when the menu is organized well.

Consider Food Allergies & Dietary Restrictions

While focusing on primary menu items is key, restaurants also need to make sure they’re not excluding anyone. A pescatarian should still see something on a steakhouse menu that appeals to them, while a vegetarian should feel the same way at a seafood restaurant. Some guests may also be on a restrictive diet like keto or paleo, and making every single menu item inedible for them could result in losing that guest in addition to friends or family who are dining with them.

Things get even more complicated when dealing with food allergies. Obviously, not all dishes can be enjoyed by everyone, but whenever possible, a menu should be planned for everyone to enjoy the restaurant’s food – and still fit within the concept. For example, an Italian restaurant might stock gluten-free pasta to accommodate patrons with Celiac disease.

Set Price Points

Pricing a restaurant menu can be tricky – prices can’t be too high to scare away patrons, but can’t be so low as to put the restaurant out of business. As a rule of thumb, food cost tends to be about 25-30% of the menu price – but this figure varies. It’s not uncommon for items like pasta dishes and desserts to have significantly higher markups than other menu items.

When starting out the business, restaurateurs should reach out to multiple food vendors to see who is willing to offer the best deals for each menu item. Being able to secure the best ingredients for your dishes at the most reasonable price results in the restaurant taking in more profits without sacrificing quality.

Design the Menu

Once all the planning is complete, it’s time to create the restaurant’s customer-facing menu. This is where menu engineering – or the process of carefully and deliberately designing a menu for maximum profitability – comes into play. There are proven psychological tactics that restaurants employ to draw attention to their top menu items. Among them are the visual design of the menu, as well as the descriptions for each dish.

Design

The menu’s design makes it more eye-catching. From an aesthetic standpoint, the menu’s colors and font selection should be on-brand and easily identifiable with the restaurant – whether it’s on the restaurant’s website or if it’s a printed menu in a guest’s hand.

From a menu engineering perspective, finding ways to draw attention to the restaurant’s most admired (and profitable) items can be as simple as highlighting them in a unique way. Placing these items at the top of the menu, putting them in a shaded box with bolded font or providing a dedicated section on the menu for them are examples of ways to accomplish this. For example, Cambridge, MA chicken restaurant Shy Bird highlights its popular “SB Dunks” with some simple boxing to differentiate it from the starters, snacks, and sandwiches on its menu.

 

Upload the Menu to the Restaurant’s Website

Once complete, menus should be added to the restaurant’s website for easy access by guests. Since 77% of diners look at a restaurant’s website before visiting, this move is an essential marketing tactic for the modern restaurant.

Plus, having the restaurant’s menu online opens up the doors to digital on-premise ordering and payments. Often prompted by a QR code on their table, guests can use their phones to review the menu, place orders and – when they’re finished – pay the tab online.

This practice – known as contactless dining – means menu pricing and selection can be changed at any time based on availability, but it’s also a powerful marketing tool for restaurants. When paying their bill, guests can opt into a restaurant’s loyalty program and receive personalized messaging and offers, which can boost customer engagement and retention.

Finally, as guests continue to return to on premise dining, contactless dining remains a preferred option by many diners and can help ease a restaurant back into normalcy if it remains short-staffed.

Regularly Revisit Menu Options

One other element of menu engineering lies in the regular analysis of the restaurant’s menu. Every 6-12 months, the restaurant should analyze every item in each of the menu’s sections for its popularity and profitability. Menu items will be classified in one of four ways:

– High profitability, high popularity. These are the menu’s stars and should be kept and promoted on the menu.

– High profitability, low popularity. These puzzles need to be slightly adjusted for more popularity. Perhaps allowing guests to sub an ingredient, making it more noticeable on the menu or slightly reducing its price will raise it to star level.

– Low profitability, high popularity. These plowhorses bring guests into the restaurant but could bring its bottom line down. It might be worth reducing portion size, seeking less expensive ingredients or raising the menu price to increase profitability.

– Low profitability, low popularity. Known as dogs, these items should be removed from the menu to streamline back-of-house operations and make way for possible new dishes.