How to develop a restaurant menu

Updated: Oct 4

Creating a food menu isn’t always straightforward. From dish selection to physical presentation, there are numerous factors to consider. Here’s our complete guide on how to develop a restaurant menu that is both informative and enticing - and ultimately drives business.


What is a menu & why is it important?


A restaurant menu is a list of all the available food and drink offered to customers, along with their respective prices. A menu provides an instant snapshot of your product offering, giving customers choices over what to eat and drink.


Did you know? “Menu” derives from the Latin word "minutus", which means “something made small”.


A menu’s purpose is first and foremost to inform customers and prospects about your restaurant. A menu is also a great sales tool and a direct way of communicating your brand.


Menus impact profitability. In fact, a well-executed menu can boost a restaurant’s profits by 10-15% on an ongoing basis*. This is why it’s so crucial to create a good restaurant menu.


person holding a restaurant menu

How to build a menu for a restaurant


If you’re wondering how to develop a restaurant menu, it’s a good idea to think about the following:


  • Food & drink selection

  • Pricing & costs

  • Format

  • Design & Layout

  • Customers

  • Competition


The customer comes first


As with any other marketing undertaking, always keep your customers in mind. You want the dish selection, layout and pricing to be appealing to your target audience.


As such, you may want to undertake some market research. Here are some questions to get you started:


  • What are the preferences of my target customers?

  • What is their buying power?

  • What kind of foods are trending? (think about the growing appetite for brunches!)

  • What kind of values do they uphold? (think about eating restrictions and sustainability, for example)

  • What design styles appeal to them?


Don’t forget to check out the competition too. This can help inspire your choices and guide decision-making.


Food & beverage selection: what’s on the menu?


There isn’t a single recipe for success when it comes to developing a restaurant menu. Your main goal should be to offer something that’s different and better than your competitors. This could be an improved dish, a secret specialty, or a lower price point, for instance.


There are different types of menus - from fixed and seasonal to a la carte and du jur. Think about what would work best for your business; and don’t be afraid of a bit of trial and error as it’s all part of the process.


It’s a good idea to offer your customer a variety of choices given they may have different food preferences, requirements or restrictions. However, offering too many choices can be overwhelming for customers - and staff may struggle to ensure quality standards are met.


Another important consideration to make is the availability of ingredients - will you be able to obtain fresh, high-quality ingredients for the dishes you want to sell? And are they affordable?


A great starting point for deciding what will go on the menu is brainstorming with your chef - and go from there.


restaurant chalkboard mentioning brunch menu

Pricing items for maximum profitability


The prices you set for food and beverages directly affect your profitability, so make sure to evaluate them carefully and thoroughly.


> Cost: Start by working out the costs of food. You don’t want to charge customers less than what you spend.

> Competition: What are your competitors charging? Check out similar restaurants and geographically close locations too.

> Strategic Positioning: How do you want customers to perceive your offerings? Could a higher price indicate premium products? Think about the value you’re offering to customers and remember that this goes beyond food - service and atmosphere are key.

> Future: Think about how things may change in the short and long term, and account for risks like ingredient cost increases.


Format: paper and digital menus


As technology continues to grow and evolve across all industries, you may want to consider having a digital menu option.


Due to the covid-19 pandemic, many restaurants introduced QR codes, giving customers a safe, no-touch option to access menus and order food**.


Digital menus allow restaurants to save on paper and other printing-related costs. They also allow for menu changes to be made more quickly and easily, so you can adapt to any changes in circumstances or costs, for instance.


Presentation makes perfect


Just like people make judgements on books based on their covers - they make judgements on your food (and restaurant) based on your menu.


Make sure your restaurant menu is “scannable” by choosing an easy-to-read font and size, as well as clearly identifying each different section. You want the whole reading experience to be as enjoyable as possible. You wouldn’t want someone to struggle to read what your restaurant has to offer. You wouldn’t want someone to struggle to find a specific dish either.


Research says that, when it comes to reading a menu, our eyes tend to gravitate towards the upper right-hand corner*, which is why this is often called the “sweet spot” of a menu. This may depend on the layout of the menu, however.


Tip: Utilising “eye magnets” can help draw attention to specific items you want to promote. Consider emphasising the most profitable items by using visual aids and making them appear more prominently.


On photos & images: According to research from menu engineer Gregg Rapp*, “using a photograph can increase sales of an item by as much as 30% when there is just one photograph on the page”. Rapp highlights that the more visual cues there are on a page, the smaller their impact. There is often the perception that menus with lots of images and photographs indicate a lower-end restaurant; so keep in mind what type of eatery you’re managing.


table with food, cuttlery and a restaurant menu

Just like with any other marketing tool, psychology plays a great role in what makes a menu great. This being said, colour can have an emotional impact on customers, so make sure to investigate the impact of your colour choices (and learn from colour theory!).


Creating a restaurant menu can be challenging, but it can also be great fun. If anything, it’s real evidence of your business coming to life. We hope this article gave you some pointers on which considerations to make when putting together a great restaurant menu and how to maximise profitability.


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References


*Menu Engineering: How to Raise Restaurant Profits 15% or More; Gregg Rapp; Accessed July 2021


**7 restaurant technology trends to watch in 2021, EHL Insights, Accessed July 2021


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