Whether you’re visiting a beloved neighborhood restaurant for its hearty comfort food or celebrating a special evening at an upscale restaurant to experience the latest creations from an award-winning chef, the menu is at the heart of who we are. a restaurant and customer experience.
Few areas of a restaurant’s operations require such careful thought as the menu. Factors include cost, product availability, preparation time, training needs, and equipment requirements. As customers expect promotions and seasonal rotations on restaurant menus, I always advise customers to approach menu changes thoughtfully and involve as many team members as possible in the process. While the owners can make the final decision, the restaurant team at all levels can provide valuable insight. Servers have an intimate knowledge of what customers are looking for. Cooks know their station configurations and the dishes that can create tensions or bottlenecks. To make sure a new menu item deserves a regular spot, test it on a special on a Thursday or Friday night for a few weeks and gauge its popularity. Then you’ll know if it’s worth investing the time and effort to make it an official option.
Many considerations should guide menu development and changes. Below are my top six recommendations for how to approach the process so menus can be executed well by kitchen staff, connect with diners, and inspire them to return.
- Identify current trends and find the one that matches your concept. People gravitate towards trendy foods – think bison burgers, creative sushi rolls or any dish with ramps. But before jumping on the latest trend, owners should consider whether it fits their particular brand. If a restaurant’s appeal is its reliable local cuisine, customers seek out familiar dishes, not experimental fads. A restaurant known for its innovation, on the other hand, can take more culinary risks. If you’re looking to incorporate a trendy ingredient but want to do it for less, consider adding it as an appetizer, salad or infusing it into a specialty cocktail.
- When creating new recipes, consider ingredients, cost, and regional favorites. If the cost of a trendy ingredient, like bison, would make the dish too expensive for a particular restaurant’s clientele, it’s not a good choice. Fast-casual diners are looking for reliable, quality food at the best price and will likely be put off by a $28 burger. An alternative to capitalizing on trends is to find ways to connect the menu to the local community or region. People traveling across the states are likely to eat out and like to see a regional dish. These dishes give restaurants the opportunity to showcase local ingredients and their own spin on regional dishes while staying true to who they are.
- Choose products that you can buy regularly. Nothing is more disappointing to diners than being told that a restaurant is no longer part of a beloved menu item. Specialty and fashionable items like railings can be hard to come by. Make sure you understand the availability of an item before selecting an item for regular menu rotation.
- Pay attention to the presentation of the dishes. Waiting for a dish to arrive provides delicious anticipation. When the waiter prepares the dish before dinner, you want the presentation of that dish to be a memorable moment. The more the senses are solicited, the more the experience is memorable. With the right training, staff can ensure the plates look as good as they taste. And remember that presentation also extends to how food is wrapped and packaged. Small personal touches go a long way in creating an elevated experience.
- Understand the timing of food delivery. Not all dishes withstand a long wait. Some are designed to be enjoyed within a minute or two of being on the plate, while other meals can be packaged and prepared to go. Make sure you have a good idea of how the dishes will hold up and if they are meant to be removed. Even with rising customer expectations for takeout availability, it’s important to prioritize food quality.
- Don’t forget the importance of marketing. Your restaurant could serve the most exquisite dishes in the world, but if people don’t know about them, they won’t have the opportunity to try them. When planning your menu, keep marketing in mind. Are you going to hire a food photographer? How will the dishes be presented on the site? What are you going to call them? How can you play on trends and seasons with your dishes and generate excitement on various social platforms? A good marketing strategy helps set expectations for new and existing customers – and allows you to meet and exceed those expectations when they come in for a meal.
Although it may vary from restaurant to restaurant, the typical cadence for updating menus is three to four times a year. For many places, this follows a natural rhythm, embracing dishes with flavors of the season. But staying true to your brand identity remains essential. Customers visit your restaurant for the things that make you unique. Figure out what that is and build your menu accordingly.
Mark Moeller is founder and president of The Recipe of Success, a national restaurant consulting firm. For more information, visit Recipeofsuccess.com.