How to make a menu: Menu templates and ideas


Any food business owner knows just how much there is to consider in the day to day running of their establishment, from training your staff to sticking to a budget. But whether you run a café or a restaurant, your food menu will no doubt be the pillar of the business. Not only is it often the most important thing for prospective customers, but a unique and interesting collection of dishes can really help set you apart from your competitors.

But how can you craft the perfect menu for your business? Whether you’re looking for restaurant or café menu ideas, we’ve got all the information you need with this handy guide. We’ll cover what you should consider when it’s time to create a menu, look at the different types of menu options for you, and give you tips on how to refresh your food and drink offering. And when it comes to designing your menu, we have a fantastic customisable menu template selection available at the end of this guide.


Drafting a menu: What to consider before you start 

The five types of food menu

Food menu ideas

Tips for making and refreshing your menu

Your free menu templates

Drafting a menu: What to consider before you start

When thinking about how to make a menu for any food establishment, there are a number of considerations to take into account before deciding on your dishes. From what you can make with the equipment you have to where your chefs excel, below are a few of the most important aspects to consider.


This will no doubt already be one of your top considerations when crafting a menu, but the importance of sticking to your budget cannot be overstated. The good news is a well considered food menu can be one of the best ways to cut down your costs. You can work out the most cost-effective ingredients in some of your staple dishes and find ways to incorporate them as much as possible in your menu to cut down on food waste. You can also find free food menu templates to cut down on the cost of menu design.

Kitchen appliances

The appliances in your commercial kitchen should be taken into account when creating a restaurant or café menu. It’s important to consider any limitations your chefs may face if you don’t have a certain appliance, as even if a task can be done by hand, it may not be cost-effective if it takes a lot more time than it would with a gadget.

On the other hand, you may also want to be creative and consider the ways you can use the appliances to expand your offering. For example, while dehydrators are used by most for dehydrating fruits and vegetables, there are a variety of alternative uses for dehydrators which could elevate your menu, from making the perfect meringue to tasty fruit leather. There are plenty of other ways to use your appliances for food menu ideas and inspiration, from crafting homemade jams with a thermal blender to whipping up a more nutritious alternative to ice cream by putting frozen banana in a food processor.

Areas of expertise

While your chefs will no doubt create a variety of excellent dishes, many have areas of expertise which they feel the most confident in. So, a great way to enhance your menu is to work collaboratively with your chefs to find some dishes that best suit their skillsets. Not only will this give your employees the opportunity to show off their best work, but it is sure to make for a delicious menu full of top-quality dishes. If you would like to entice customers to the dishes based on your chefs’ expertise, you can even label them as speciality meals on your menu.  

Dietary restrictions

To make your food establishment accessible to as many potential customers as possible, make sure to include a variety of dishes suitable for those with dietary restrictions. While there are no laws or regulations for food businesses when it comes to offering dishes for people with food allergies or intolerances, it will likely be beneficial for your business. After all, opening your restaurant or café up to as many people as possible will bring in more custom, which is always a bonus. A few of the most common dietary restrictions which you may want to cater for include:

  • Vegetarian diets
  • Vegan diets
  • Gluten intolerance
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Nut allergies
  • Halal diets
  • Kosher diets

Clearly mark the dishes that are suitable for those with dietary restrictions to make choosing a dish as easy as possible for your customers. And if there is risk of cross-contamination, this is something you should make as clear as possible on your menu.

The five types of food menus

A great place to start when deciding which food menu will work best for your business is the five primary types of menu, which are as follows:

Static menu: This is a large menu which is split up into a variety of different subcategories — for example, you may have a meat, a fish, and a vegetarian subsection. This is the menu type used by most food establishments and can work particularly well for restaurants.

À la carte menu: With an a la carte menu, each item is priced individually, allowing customers to order any selection of dishes they want.

Cycle menu: This type of menu is used at a specific time each week or month repeatedly. For example, if you’re planning on having a different menu on a Monday than you do the rest of the week, this would be a cycle menu.

Du jour menu: Commonly found in restaurants, “du jour” translates to “of the day”, meaning this is the menu of the day and is modified daily.

Prix fixe menu: On a “prix fixe”, or a “fixed price” menu, you will find two or more dishes (usually a variation of starter, main, and dessert) offered at a fixed price. This is also called a set menu.

When it comes to choosing the menu type for your restaurant, static is usually the most popular choice. As the dishes don’t change, it keeps the process of ordering ingredients simple and allows your chefs to get to know the dishes well, which can be beneficial when working in such a particularly fast paced environment. However, à la carte menus are popular choices, too, especially for particularly upscale establishments.

And of course, you don’t need to stick to just one menu type. Many restaurants and cafés offer a selection of static menus, prix fixe (set) menus, and du jour menus. This is a great way to appease to a variety of regular customers, as it allows those who enjoy the same dish each time to keep ordering their favourite, while still appealing to your guests who enjoy something new every visit.

Food menu ideas

When considering how to make a restaurant menu work for your establishment, it’s important to consider your brand and the type of food you offer. For example, while an elegant design may work perfectly for a fine dining restaurant menu, a fast food establishment may benefit more from an easier to read font so it can easily be read when displayed behind the counter. To give you some inspiration for creating the perfect menu for your business, below are some food menu ideas for a variety of different types of establishment.

Fine dining restaurant menu ideas

When it comes to fine dining, it really is a case of quality over quantity. Fine dining restaurants often offer a much smaller selection of food than more casual establishments, but the quality should more than make up for this. With this in mind, you may want to display your dishes on a simple A4 sheet. Choosing an elegant script font is a good idea for fine dining restaurants, as this can give your customers an idea of the type of establishment you run. However, bear in mind that some script fonts can be difficult to read which may end up hampering customer experience, so make sure to choose one of the easiest to read options and display it in a large enough font size.

In regard to the food you serve, there are a number of considerations to take into account, such as your chef’s areas of expertise and your budget. High-quality ingredients should be a priority for fine dining establishments, as elevating the basics can really upgrade the taste of your dish. For example, opting for grass-fed beef over grain-fed comes with numerous benefits, the most crucial being taste, as the former is considered by many to have a more intense flavour.

Creativity is often key for fine dining restaurants too. While getting the basics right is essential, allowing your chefs the freedom to be creative with flavours won’t just set your restaurant apart from your competitors, but it will give customers a unique and exclusive experience, which is perfect for a fine dining establishment.  

Casual restaurant menu ideas

When it comes to making a menu for a more casual establishment, the design should make it as simple as possible for your customers to order. This is especially the case for fast food restaurants, where customers may be looking to order their food in a hurry. An easy-to-read sans serif or monospaced font is the best option here.

If you have a large menu, you may want to use colour to split the menu up into different sections and make it easier for readers to navigate (for example, by using a green background for salads, red for meat dishes, blue for fish, and so on). Some restaurants also add images of some of their dishes to their menu. This can be an effective way of giving customers an idea of what to expect, however this can also use up valuable menu space. So, if you do opt to display pictures, you may want to do so sparingly on dishes you want to upsell. You can also add borders or a brighter pop of colour to these dishes on the menu to attract the eye of your customers.  

When it comes to food menu ideas for a casual restaurant, having a few staple side dishes, such as fries, garlic bread, and potato skins, is likely to be a good idea. For your main dishes, make sure to include the simplest meals on your menu as well as more elaborate options, to appeal to the widest audience. While they may seem overdone, the simplest foods, such as a margherita for Italians or a standard cheeseburger for American-style diners, are often the most popular too. Plus, a simple dish that has been well-executed can really stand out, and can also act as a good benchmark for customers when comparing you to your competitors.

You may want to offer customisable main courses to set yourself apart from the competition, such as having an option for customers to choose their own pizza toppings or build their own burgers. Asking for modifications can be uncomfortable for your guests, so allowing them to create their own dishes can eliminate this awkwardness and improve their overall experience.

Café menu ideas

Just like when creating a menu for a casual restaurant, readability should be one of your top priorities when making a café menu. This is especially important if you also display your menu on the wall behind the counter for customers looking to order their dish to take away.  You may want to use boxes to help customers navigate the menu easily when in a rush.

When it comes to café menu food ideas, you’re spoilt for choice. No matter your niche, you’re sure to be able to find plenty of dishes perfect for brunches or lunches, which customers can enjoy in or take away. Sandwiches and toasties are of course popular choices, and can be altered in a variety of ways to make the dish unique to your establishment. But if you’re looking for more variation, there are a number of similar lunches you can trial which are slightly less common to give your café an edge, such as topped flatbreads, filled pittas, and bagels. You can also opt for customisable fillings as a USP to give your customers more choice.

And if you’re on a tight budget, or you simply want to be more sustainable, soup is a staple café dish which is ideal for cutting down vegetable waste. Offer up a soup of the day to customers to make the most of fresh ingredients which are nearing their expiry date. As well as cutting down on wasted food (and therefore wasted money), an ever-changing soup selection is sure to keep customers coming back for more so they can sample the new dishes.

Don’t forget about the drinks when it comes to deciding on your café menu ideas. There are a number of coffee shop staple drinks which you will no doubt have on your menu, including English breakfast tea, lattes, Americanos, flat whites, and cappuccinos, but you may want to offer a few other less common drinks on your menu to entice new customers. For example, affogato (a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured on top) is a great addition in the summer months, and in the colder weather a Vienna (a shot of espresso with whipped cream on top) is a good alternative.

Tips for making and refreshing your menu

After you’ve collated the best restaurant and café menu ideas and designed your perfect menu, the work still doesn’t stop there. It’s important to review your menu often, not just to see which dishes are doing well and which you may want to remove, but to see if there’s any other areas you can improve, whether this is looking for ways to cut your budget or make your establishment more sustainable. Below are some of the best tips for maintaining and updating your menu to make it appealing to customers year-round.

Analyse your sales data and customer feedback

You may create a menu you think your customers are going to love, but at the end of the day it is their feedback that will shape the way your menu changes over the years. After all, they are the group you are trying to appeal to! So, make sure to ask your wait staff to check that everyone enjoyed their dishes, and to take notes on any feedback they receive. You can get an even better look at the dishes your customers are enjoying by checking your sales data regularly and keeping an eye on your best-sellers. If you have one particularly popular dish, you may want to make one or two more variations of it to capitalise on this hype.

Create special seasonal menus

Whether you work in a small casual café or a fine dining restaurant, it’s a good idea to take seasonal celebrations into account. While you may not want to add them to your regular menu, having a few seasonal dishes as specials can be great for keeping things fresh for your regulars while still attracting new customers. And there are plenty of different ways you can incorporate this throughout the seasons, such as making a pumpkin soup for Halloween, a main dish using turkey and the trimmings for Christmas, or a range of summer-inspired cocktails for the warmer months.

Consider a sustainable approach

Prioritizing sustainability when updating your menu can come with many benefits, not just for the planet, but for your business and customers too. Cutting down on food waste can help save your business money, so this is a great place to start. Keep on top of sales data to see which dishes aren’t selling as many as you expected, and cut down on your food orders accordingly.

Sustainability is also important to consumers, with 40% of respondents in Deloitte’s 2022 Sustainability & Consumer Behaviour Report claiming that they have chosen brands with environmentally sustainable practices and values. So, by making a more sustainable menu, such as by opting for as many locally-grown, in-season ingredients as possible, you can show your customers that your values align with theirs.

Your free menu templates

Creating a menu from scratch can be overwhelming, especially without any design experience. To make the process easier for you, we’ve designed two customisable menu templates. Our two column menu template is suitable for a variety of eateries, including restaurants, cafés, and coffee shops. This menu organises your dishes into four different sections, and also offers an attention-grabbing box at the top right of the menu for any dish or deal you want to promote. We also offer a fully customisable single column menu template, ideal for fine dining establishments.

These menu templates are available on Google Sheets and are fully customisable. To access them, simply click on your chosen menu template (single column or two column), click the “use template button” in the top right corner of your screen, and customise them with Google Docs.

Creating a menu your customers will love is one of the most important aspects of running an eatery. With the restaurant and café menu ideas and tips above, hopefully you now feel confident with crafting and maintaining the perfect menu for your business. And if you’re looking for something to get you started, don’t forget to make the most of our free customisable menu templates. 

If you’re planning on expanding your menu, you may want to add some new appliances to your commercial kitchen. We have a wide variety on offer at Mitchell & Cooper, including commercial blenders, Crustastuns, gelato machines, stand mixers, and much more. We also offer a wide selection of cooking and bakeware, kitchenware, bar essentials, and more, so browse our full selection today.