8 tips for designing and managing your menu

A reflection of your restaurant’s identity, your menu is one of the cornerstones of your business. If you want to design a well-structured, attractive and tempting menu, follow our eight tips for:

  1. Creating a short, simple menu
  2. Pricing your menu properly 
  3. Organising the layout of your menu 
  4. Highlighting the most popular dishes
  5. Designing your menu
  6. Creatively naming dishes
  7. Updating your menu
  8. Making your menu visible and accessible.

1. Creating a short, simple menu

The golden rule for creating a restaurant menu is not to overload it – a menu should be concise and easy to read.

Generally speaking, a menu should offer five sections: hot starters, cold starters, main courses, salads and cheeses, and desserts (fish, meat, appetisers, etc. can also be added). 

The number of dishes offered in each section will vary according to the type of restaurant, the style of cuisine, the size of the restaurant and the restaurant’s market positioning. In general, you should not offer more than 20 to 30 items, in total (according to a study conducted by the CCI).

This is extremely important as it is much more complicated to manage a menu that offers too much choice – the service will be slower, a long menu is definitely more expensive to implement, and it is more taxing for customers to read. 

Further, when designing the menu and selecting your dishes, you must know your customers and be familiar with their expectations and consumption habits. You should also have an idea about what the competition is doing, and be familiar with the current trends in the restaurant sector – hence the importance of carrying out a market study and writing a business plan beforehand. 

Also, make sure that every member of staff knows the menu inside out, so that they can offer first-class service and advise customers.

2. Pricing your menu properly

Pricing is a very important step in creating and managing your menu, as it has an immediate impact on your restaurant’s profitability.  

When setting prices, several criteria need to be considered: 

  • Cost of producing a dish
  • Type of cuisine
  • Market positioning of the restaurant
  • Prices charged by direct competitors in your catchment area
  • Economic climate of the restaurant sector
  • Your restaurant’s overheads.

To correctly set your prices and manage your menu, the following steps are key:

Calculate the cost of each dish by portion size

This is the total cost of all the ingredients needed to prepare one portion of a dish.

Estimate your food cost percentage

The food cost percentage generally lies between 25 and 35% of the selling price of the menu item. Food cost percentage is calculated as follows: (cost of goods sold / revenue or sales generated from the finished dish) x 100 = food or beverage cost.

Calculate your markup

Restaurants are free to set the markup necessary to guarantee the financial health of their business. The markup must cover the cost of goods sold as well as overheads (rent, payroll, operating expenses, taxes, etc.).

Gross profit margin is calculated as follows: (sales excluding tax – cost of goods sold) / sales excluding tax x 100.

Several pricing methods and financial KPI for defining costs and margins can be used: these are detailed in the article: “Our tips for managing restaurant finances and margins”.

The four Omnes principles can also be used to design a properly priced restaurant menu:

Principle N° 1: Opening range price

The opening range price refers to the difference in the price between the cheapest and the most expensive item in the same range, or “group” (starters, desserts, salads, etc.). As a general rule, the difference between the highest and the lowest price should not exceed a ratio of 2.5 (or 3, if the group offers more than eight items). To calculate the opening range ratio, simply divide the most expensive item by the least expensive item.

Applying this principle means you offer consistent prices in line with your customer’s budgets. 

Principle N° 2  Price dispersion

The objective of this second principle is to ensure price homogeneity within a given group of dishes, by dividing dishes into three price ranges.

To do this, calculate the difference between the most expensive item (e.g. a crème brûlée at €13) and the least expensive (e.g. a crumble at €4) for each group, then divide this result by 3.  This would give: (13 - 4) / 3 = 3.

The result is the difference between the price in each group. For desserts, for example, the following price bands can thus obtained:

  • High range: €10 to €13
  • Middle range: €7 to €10
  • Low range: €4 to €7

The prices in the range should then be adjusted so that the number of dishes in the middle range equals the total number of dishes in the other two price ranges.

Principle N° 3: The relationship between supply and demand

This third principle measures whether the menu offer is coherent with market demand by dividing the average demand in each group by the average offer.

To calculate the average demand: revenues of the group / number of dishes sold in the group

To calculate the average offer: total prices of the group / number of dishes in the group

To create a menu that offers value for money, the result must be between 0.9 and 1.

If the result is lower than 0.9, your menu prices may be too low. If it is higher than 1, your prices are probably too high. 

Principe N° 4: Menu promotions

This last principle encourages restaurant owners to offer promotions on certain dishes on a regular basis (while keeping costs within the average price range). For example, you could apply a discount of 5 to 10% for a starter + main course + dessert.

3. Organising the layout of your menu

Once you have selected your menu items, you will need to decide on the number of pages and organise the layout of your offerings. 

Ideally, you should create a 2-page menu in A5 format or a 1-page horizontal menu in A4 format. This makes the menu easier to manage and lets your customers see dishes at a glance.

Your menu should be logically organised around different groups of items, e.g. starters, main courses, desserts, side dishes, alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, etc.

A crucial element to consider when designing your menu is the direction in which the menu is read. For example, if you decide to create a 2-page menu, the menu will be read diagonally – diners tend to glance first towards the top left corner, then the bottom right, then the top right. The centre is therefore the area the eye scans the most.

4. Highlighting the most popular dishes

Another important step in designing your restaurant menu is to highlight your most popular and profitable items. 

To draw your customer’s attention to these bestsellers, strategically place them on those areas of the menu where the eye lingers the most. On a 2-page menu, the focal point is the top right. On a 1-page menu, it is the top half.  

 

You can also make your star dishes stand out with different colours, fonts or boxes or by adding Chef’s Recommendation or Bestseller, for instance.

5. Designing your menu

Your menu must be visually harmonious, appealing and unique. Above all, it should mirror the image you want your restaurant to convey. 

Your menu’s graphic charter should be consistent with your restaurant’s decor, brand and marketing tools, as well as your customers, your values and the type of cuisine offered.  

For easy and fluid reading, create a menu with a clean style and modern, readable lettering (limit yourself to two, or three max, large fonts). 

You can also include photos, but be careful not to go overboard, as this is generally reserved for a certain type of restaurant (fast food, tourist restaurants, exotic cuisine, etc.). Instead, use graphic illustrations and modern icons. 

If you want to create a high-quality visual design, it is best to use a professional graphic designer.

→ If you are looking for professionals to help you manage your restaurant, see our article: Who can you turn to for advice on running your restaurant?

6. Creatively naming dishes

Dish names must be informative, musical and elegant, without being pretentious. The aim is to arouse the senses and awaken curiosity, inciting diners to order a particular dish by giving an idea of its texture, taste, appearance, and so on. 

Dish descriptions should be clear and concise (two lines max), mentioning both the ingredients and product origin.   

 

It may also be useful to add a colour code or icons to indicate possible allergens, vegetarian dishes, vegan dishes, etc.

7. Updating your menu

Once you have designed your menu, it is far from a fait accompli. You will have to regularly update it and adjust prices if need be. 

Menu engineering – a method for analysing the profitability and popularity of menu items – can be used to manage your menu. 

This technique requires analysing your menu to determine which dishes fall into which category:

  • Stars: High Profitability and High Popularity
  • Plow horses: Low Profitability and High Popularity
  • Puzzles: High Profitability and Low Popularity
  • Dogs: Low Profitability and Low Popularity.

Once you have categorised your dishes in line with this matrix, you can engineer your menu more efficiently and look for ways to maximise profits. For example:

  • Removing unprofitable dishes that are not selling 
  • Tweaking prices
  • Reducing portion sizes of popular but unprofitable dishes 
  • Adapting recipes
  • Changing the name of a dish
  • Changing the location of the dish on the menu
  • Finding cheaper suppliers.

If your restaurant attracts regular customers, it makes sense to periodically offer new dishes. If your clientele is more transient or tourist, it is best to offer a fixed menu.  

Do not overlook your drinks menu. As with the food menu, your drinks menu should be regularly reviewed, and the profitability and popularity of your cocktails, fruit juices and other beverages analysed. 

8. Making your menu visible and accessible

Your menu is one of the first things your customers see, so make sure it appears on multiple communication channels, including your website, social media, delivery platforms, Google My Business, etc. 

If you want to streamline the management of your business, you could opt for a digital menu that can be scanned using a QR code. In addition to complying with health measures, this type of interactive menu saves time, limits printing costs and makes editing easier. 

Lastly, think about translating your menu into English, and other languages too if your restaurant attracts a large volume of international tourists.

For more tips on running a restaurant, check out our other articles: 

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