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How to Plan a Restaurant Menu

Learn how to plan a restaurant menu from restaurateur Paul Bolles-Beaven in this Howcast video.


A restaurant's menu is a very powerful brand statement. In fact, you are what you serve, when it comes to a restaurant menu.

The question might be how do you plan a restaurant menu? One thing that's very important to keep in mind is that your restaurant menu will have a very powerful impact on many parts of your restaurant business. It will determine how many people you need in the kitchen to produce the food. It will determine many of your price points. It will determine how your business performs from the point of view of check average. How much is each person going to spend when they eat at your restaurant?

And you have a lot of decisions to make when you plan your restaurant menu to make sure that it delivers what you want it to in terms of your idea. In terms of how you want the restaurant to feel for the guests and for your staff.

One of the first questions you're going to ask yourself is: How does a restaurant menu embody my idea for my restaurant? If you want to have a southwestern cuisine restaurant, pretty obviously, you need to have a menu that delivers that kind of food. You also want to know how many items you're going to offer your guests. Will you expect them to order a la carte, individual items from the menu, or will you expect them to order what's called "prix fixe", or a fixed priced menu, where they spend one price for multiple courses.

All of this depends on the style of your restaurant, the level of service, the level of price that you're expecting your guests to pay.

When you're working on your menu it's important to start asking yourself, what is the guest going to think when they see this menu? They may see your menu online. They may see your menu for the first time when they sit down in your restaurant. What are they going to feel? What are they going to think? Are they going to say "Ooh, I want that!" or are they going to be overwhelmed by too many choices? Does the menu make them feel comfortable? Does it make them feel excited? Does it make them feel bored? Does it make them feel overwhelmed? How does the guest feel about the menu and the items on it?

Also, what does the menu say about your concept of food? Do you provide seasonal ingredients? Or are you the kind of restaurant that's serving asparagus in December? Do you serve local produce or you serve everything under the sun? It's very important to think like a guest when you're planning a menu. What are the choices I want to make? What are the choices I want to have and how are they going to affect my enjoyment of my meal?

Another important thing to know about planning a menu is that a menu should not be something that's engraved in stone and never changes. You need to change your menu and you need to create a menu that you expect to change. There will be dishes that will be more seasonally appropriate. You're not going to sell a lot of beef stew in August in New York City. You need to think about what do people want to eat at different times of year? What is appealing to people at different times of year?

Now, if you're really lucky, you'll have a dish that people love so much they come back for it. What you would call a signature dish. A dish that people say, "Oh. I've got to go to that restaurant because I have to have --that--". Well, people become very attached to those dishes. So there's an interesting balance to find. You have to add new things to keep the excitement for your regular guests. You have to hold on to those signature dishes that people keep coming back for again and again.

Change your menu seasonally. Think about signature items that people will associate with your business. And keep it fresh. Add new things to keep people interested in your menu.

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