7 menu planning and menu design goals

By July 16, 2019 October 2nd, 2019 No Comments
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7 menu planning and menu design goals.

Learn how to use the 7 menu planning and menu design goals to obtain better quality end-product and reduce costs.

The foodservice industry is an interesting one.  Virtually no barriers to entry coupled with an unwavering interest from people wanting to own their own restaurant and catering business have meant that the food service business is often very competitive.  Add rising cost pressures and a labour market at or near full capacity and it’s not hard to see how there are serious challenges for restaurant and catering businesses.

In this article, we are going to concentrate on business costs.  In particular, food costs or the food component of ‘Cost Of Goods Sold’ in accounting terms, which, along with ‘Labour Costs’ and to a lesser extent ‘Occupancy Costs (such as Rent)’, usually make up the bulk of any given foodservice business’s outgoings.  As an experienced industry operator will know, having these three cost areas (particularly food and labour) in check is critical to the profitability and viability of the business.

The objective is always twofold:

  • to obtain a better quality end-product
  • to reduce costs.

Strategies to reduce food cost and increase the quality

1.Menu size

In recent times there has been a trend (particularly in restaurants) of going back to older style restaurant menu concept formulas with menus offering huge amounts of menu items.  There is no doubt that some food businesses like Asian restaurants and traditional quality steakhouses may work better with this kind of approach but there is usually a significant price to pay and it is felt that huge menus are really only viable in big turnover establishments and even then are not necessarily essential.

Some feel that by offering more choice in terms of increasing the range of menu items will attract more business.  This can be true, but most people would be surprised at how tight and intelligently planned menus can very effectively replace huge menus.  The general rule of thumb is “the tighter the menu, the better the likelihood of a positive cost result”.

2.Portion control and procedures

Standardization of procedures and training (particularly food portioning procedures) should be taken as far as possible in all food businesses at every level if you want consistent results.

I never forget someone once telling me about a very successful café operator they’d worked for who had a “bible” sized procedures manual just to explain how to cook his “scrambled eggs!”  You would have to consider this humorous and somewhat over the top in terms of ‘chef control freak’ behaviour except for the fact that a year later I  remember reading about how this guy’s eggs had been proclaimed by the “New York Times” as the “best-scrambled eggs in the world”.  I don’t mind this kind of control freak procedure paranoia if it results in this kind of a result.

3.Product choice and presentation

Something to remember is that repeat customers in your business is probably more often than not about “perception of value relating to the product you offer” rather than the actual value you are giving.  As such, “perception” is really important here. 

Your average customer probably couldn’t care less how much money you are or are not making out of a dish or how much it costs you to put it on the plate.  What they are concerned about is whether or not their expectations are being met.  Interestingly, on this topic, the visual element and the way dishes are designed or styled can be a significant factor in delivering both a good food cost outcome and customer satisfaction.  So much as it is a cliché, we do first eat with our eyes before our mouths and some foods present better in a food cost sense than others.

Put in financial terms, if two different dishes are delivering the same amount of perceived satisfaction to the same customer type and they have significantly different cost outcome (labour, as well as food cost, should also be considered here) then your business really needs to consider the commercial consequences in menu item choice.

The executive/head chef should be continually looking at product alternatives to build a better margin in plate food costs.  Although it is important to emphasise that the “alternative” should be equal to or of “better” quality and not to just concentrate on the bottom line.

4. Menu superstars – cost winners and high turnover dishes

Let’s talk about the 80/20 rule and food costs.  Get your plate food cost results for your highest 20 percent of turnover items on your menu right and all other things being equal, 80 percent of your total menu food cost goals will be achieved.  This is usually a quick way to address the most important elements of your food cost objectives.

Some dishes are stars out of popularity.  Some dishes are stars because they make you a lot of money.  Your goal is to make these two the same dish!

If your high turnover dishes are poor in terms of food cost then you need to work on them….quickly!

5. Key menu items

Irrespective of how often you change your menu it is advisable to look at using several key base product lines that run through at least more than one menu change/season.  You can do this by simply using the same ingredient, for example, a particular fish or meat product in subsequent different dishes on different menus subject to product availability and seasonality considerations.

The more and longer you use anyone particular product the better the position you will be in to buy bulk at a lower cost and/or direct to the producer (at significant cost savings once you’ve sorted the logistics) or to just simply negotiate down the price.  Discounts for good, consistent, well-paying customers or bulk purchases are pretty much a universal phenomenon.

6.Frequency of menu changes

On the one hand, it’s very important in this day and age to be providing the perception of choice and change in our establishments and on our menus.  Then, on the other hand, diners often tend to be pretty conservative in their dining habits seemingly more concerned about consistency and comfort than choice even if they wouldn’t admit it. 

One thing that’s for sure is that you can pretty much bank on food cost results worsening the more frequently you change the menu.  This is the case for a multitude of reasons – other extra non-food costs are incurred with every menu change that range from increased labour requirements (additional training and organizational adjustments, etc) through to the cost of producing the new physical menus.

As for the frequency of menu change, the number of wholesale menu items changed at any one time will also impact food and other costs, not to mention personnel stress levels and customer service and satisfaction.  The best approach is usually to gradually phase new items into a menu and accordingly phase old ones out giving everybody ample time to master the operational change.

Specials are a great tool to phase new dishes into operation before putting them onto the actual menu and phasing out the existing items which also minimises the food wastage potential through the change.  Specials are also a fantastic way to test new dishes in your business and can provide the ongoing change in variety to regular customers without having to change the menu as frequently.

7. The increasing importance of technology

This is simply the direction the whole foodservice industry will go with extraordinary profitability outcomes.  Equipment such as blast chillers, combi-ovens, cryovac machines and the like are fast becoming as important to chefs as PCs are now to every professional.  The cost and new preparation methods associated with the new kitchen technology are still something we are getting our heads around here in Australia but the results when we do will be quite astonishing.


7 menu planning and menu design goals. Learn how to use the 7 menu planning and menu design goals to obtain better quality end-product and reduce costs.

For more information on menu planning and menu design, customer service or marketing why not download copies of our practical How to…eGuides.

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