STEP 1: DEFINE YOUR GOALS FOR MENU PLANNING
Before you even touch an ingredient, think of what the goals for your menu concept are. Are you looking to introduce a new style of cuisine? Reach a new group of customers? Jump on a food trend?
Having a vision of your desired outcome will guide you throughout the process, all the way through to the final step: menu testing. Menu Concept Goals:
Increase revenue: While all menus should help make your restaurant profitable, some focus more on this goal than others. Highlighting high-margin items, and using strategic pricing can help generate more profit for your restaurant.
Differentiate from competitors: After you’ve completed your competitive analysis, you may want to craft a menu that further distinguishes you from your competitors. Identify market gaps that can become your niche, and develop a menu that highlights your restaurant’s unique vibe.
Streamline operations: Your menu can be constructed for speed and efficiency, optimizing your offerings to create a more streamlined BOH system. Consider ingredient cross-utilization, standardized recipes, and minimizing waste to improve productivity and reduce costs.
STEP 2: DO THE RESEARCH FOR YOUR NEW MENU CONCEPT
Tastes are subjective, but data is not. That’s why it’s important to ground your menu planning in information about what dishes set you apart from the competition, are on trend, are feasible for the kitchen, and that you know a majority of customers will like.
Consumer tastes: Talk to your diners. Take polls. Research online. The results will help you know what your customers want.
Do a competitive analysis: Study your competitors' menus, websites, and social media profiles to understand the trends and flavor profiles they are capitalizing on. Note the popular dishes, unique flavor combinations, and innovative approaches they use, and see how your menu can either use these, or respond to them, or improve upon them.
Stay updated on industry publications: Subscribe to industry publications, magazines, and websites that focus on the restaurant and foodservice industry. These publications often provide insights into emerging trends, consumer preferences, and industry news. Some popular publications include Restaurant Business, Nation's Restaurant News, and Food & Wine.
Follow food blogs and influencers: Follow food blogs, social media accounts, and influencers who specialize in culinary trends and flavors. They often share their experiences, recipes, and insights into popular ingredients, techniques, and flavor combinations. However, be discerning, as many of these outlets can promote temporary fads.
Collaborate with suppliers: They can provide insights into seasonal availability, new products, and emerging trends in the ingredients they supply. Build strong relationships with your suppliers to stay informed about market changes.
Make sure it’s feasible: Think about supply chains, equipment opportunities or constraints, and kitchen operational production.
Practicality check: Do your menu items make practical business sense? Use menu engineering principles to judge if your menu is profitable, while also making sure the ingredients used aren’t bogging down your storage and waste management operations.
STEP 3: BRAINSTORM YOUR MENU CONCEPT
This is the fun part. Play with ingredients. Think seasonally. Let your staff explore, bringing them into the process. And be creative with ingredients and techniques, such as combining dishes (such as “braised” and “pasta”) into one dish that can set your restaurant apart.
STEP 4: TEST YOUR MENU
Make no mistake, menu testing is an essential part of the process, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun. Invite a spirit of play and levity into the process, using the following techniques:
Introduce new dishes to your staff: Before rolling out a new menu, try out new dishes during staff “family dinner.” Ask questions and let them talk freely. This is also a great way to foster a team mentality.
Host a tasting party: Turn your regulars, friends, and family into an inner circle. Test out a few variations of your dishes, and let them help you choose.
Put together a tasting panel: Get feedback from other chefs and operators.
Bring in a focus group: These are not typically your restaurant’s customers, so they can provide the opinions of the wider public and potential new customers.
Soft launch your new menu concept: For a few days, put new dishes on the menu as specials. Make sure to track sales and get customer feedback.
Do a “limited time offer”: Give special deals, discounts, or pairings on new menu items to entice customers. This will also help your FOH staff get used to selling new items.