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  • Writer's picturePhilip Marchant

7. Menu design tips

It doesn't matter if you're developing your very first restaurant menu or you’re planning to re-invent your current one – you need to have a strategy in place with both the food and beverages on offer.

To develop a memorable food and beverage menu, however, you must know who your target customers are.

Here are a few tips to help you get started.

1.Develop your menu concept

First, what you want your restaurant to be known for. What is the theme and is there a compatible colour scheme and design theme?

The goal is to keep it simple. For your first menu try to keep your menu under 32 items, this will not only help with stock control, wastage, preparation, storage and cash outlay. Also remember, guests prefer to decide within 120 seconds.

Take this time to list out your desired menu and if it’s too large, begin to narrow it down.

2. Visit restaurants with similar offerings

Visit similar concepts and also your expected competitors from other concepts check their pricing, presentation, service, if you like something particular ask about the ingredients and the suppliers.

3.Develop a list of core ingredients

Developing a menu can take a lot of trial and error. It’s important to understand your concept and target market while working with flavours and combinations that will make customers go ‘wow’!

Put together a list of the core ingredients that will deliver that wow factor within your desired menu. You’ll also want to repurpose raw ingredients (use a few items in as many of the dishes) as much as possible to reduce food costs, preparation, storage capacity and waste.

When considering ingredients, try using as much product from around you as possible – for example, produce that is in season, food artisans from your area, or meats from a local farm/butcher. Try to find at least two suppliers for each ingredient in case of any supply problems.

4. Source your ingredients – find a supply chain

Now that you know your concept and its core ingredients, where can you find them?

When planning your menu(s), list out a limited number of targeted suppliers, then check their capacity, can they supply your estimated stock requirements, can they cope with larger orders if you prove popular, what is their turnaround time, delivery days, payment plan (cash on delivery or 30 days?) this can make a big difference to your cash flow. Ask for copies of their food hygiene and HACCP policies for your records.

5. Cost out your menu items

Using a recipe management program or simply inputting available data into a spreadsheet will allow you to produce accurate pricing and margins. Don’t forget to include costings for things such as condiments, cooking oil, spices, and even salt and pepper.

Based on the concept, production time of dishes and cost of ingredients plus your margin is the price you come to reasonable for your target customer. If not go back and try again.

6. Visualize your plating and glassware

Now that you have the concept, suppliers and costs figured out, you can progress to presentation. Many aspiring restaurateurs forget about this one. It’s time to consider how your guests will eat and drink your menu offerings.

What equipment do you need to produce these items, how will you hold and store them?

How will it look on the plate or in the glass? How will the colours contrast with one another? Is there the “wow” factor? Is the item Instagram-able?

If it’s available for take-out, how will the food be packaged and how will it look upon delivery after being in a container for 10+ minutes on the drive home?

It’s ideal to plate it different ways, test it, take photos, and also test the takeaway if it is going to be available for take-out.

Remember “Practice makes perfect”

7. Run a test kitchen

This is the most exciting aspect – testing the offering!

Do the menu items meet and exceed your expectations?

Can you produce the food quick enough to the required standard consistently?

Try it out on your friends and family and even get food bloggers, food journalists, etc involved.

Get a guest spot at a local restaurant to try out your menu. Or maybe a food truck or stall.

Go to local fetes and food shows and test, adapt, try and try again.

Take photos and put them on social media to see which ones gather the most engagement. This also helps with your pre-opening marketing.

When you have done all of this start again!

A menu is an ever changing and progressive part of your business. To be successful you will have to continually adapt and change it.

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