Whether starting from scratch or polishing up an existing one, knowing how to develop a restaurant menu is key to profitability. The dishes you create are the heart of your restaurant, and your guests first encounter those dishes through your menu. Word of mouth, online reviews, and the sights and smells around your dining room can clue customers in on what to order, but for many guests, the menu will be the most important selling tool. A well-designed menu can improve the guest experience and make it easier for your servers to upsell, which can make or break a restaurant.
A cluttered menu with lots of different items can overwhelm guests. You want a menu that is easily skimmed and pleasant to read. The categories for the food should be logical and intuitive. It should be easy to find all those items that boost sales, such as appetizers, sides, desserts, and drinks. Limiting the number of items on your menu will make for a better reading experience, and it can save you money. Customers no longer expect a big menu. An extensive menu can hurt your bottom line. Having to keep all those ingredients on hand will probably lead to food waste. It may not be as difficult as you think to learn how to make a menu.
How to Make a Restaurant Menu
Write Down Every Menu Item
Simply write down the names of every menu item. Avoid clunky or lengthy names for dishes. Some restaurants use unusual names for their menu items as part of their branding, but a straightforward shorthand name for a dish will work fine, too.
Categorize the Menu Items
Determine the right categories (appetizer, entrée, dessert, etc.) for the items on your menu. Stick to four to seven categories to avoid overwhelming your guests with too many options. Put your best sellers within each category near the top.
Setting the prices for your menu items can be intimidating. Undercharging can hurt your profitability, and overcharging can run off potential customers. There are several formulas for setting menu prices. Do your research to determine which one is best for you.
If you are preparing to increase your current prices, your menu can help you justify this to your customers. The menu is an opportunity to state why you are increasing your prices. Customers are more receptive to price increases if you can explain why on your menu. You can say something like, “We recently increased our prices by 10% to offer all members on our team a living wage.” Customers can see the value of this as they interact with and get to know your staff.
Write Menu Descriptions
You put care into the dishes you or your chef create, and the descriptions for each menu item are an opportunity to translate all that love and care into words. As you write the descriptions, these tips can help inspire you:
- Ask the chef who created the menu items to tell you about them
- Think about the story behind them
- Find out about the sourcing of each item’s ingredients
- Take note of how much effort each dish requires
Taking a closer look at each dish can help you write descriptions that resonate with guests and make them feel excited about their options. Pepper in some descriptive and appealing adjectives to punch up the descriptions.
Some restaurants write descriptions that are heavy on personality to help create a fun atmosphere. You can even hire a copywriter to do this for you, but it is not necessary. Other restaurants signal a no-frills atmosphere by leaving off menu descriptions, which works best if you offer familiar foods like burgers and fries.
Design the Menu
Some people choose to hire a graphic designer with professional design skills to design their menu. Others go with a simple black-and-white layout using Microsoft Word. All these options can work depending on your restaurant’s brand. If you design your menu yourself, be sure to:
- Stick to one to two pages.
- Pick a color scheme that reflects your restaurant’s brand.
- Put high-margin dishes at the center and upper right corner of your menu.
- Consider leaving off dollar signs to get customers to spend more.
- If you plan to use photos, make sure they are high-quality ones. A professional food photographer is worth it.
- Choose fonts that are legible and fit with your restaurant’s brand.
- Use menu templates as a starting point if you cannot afford to hire a menu designer.
- Make sure the menu can be updated easily, especially if you change your menu seasonally.
- If you are still struggling with how to create a restaurant menu design, look at the menus of restaurants you like.