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.
- Keep on top of the latest trends
- Analyse your sales data and customer feedback
- Create special seasonal menus
- Consider a sustainable approach
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.
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.
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.
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.
Keep on top of the latest trends
While it’s important to have a selection of popular staple dishes, a great way to grab the attention of customers is to stay on top of the most recent food trends. As well as modernising your establishment and appealing to more consumers, allowing your chefs to experiment with trends and put their own unique twist on them can even set you apart from your competitors and become a new USP. Or even better — you may find a new best-selling staple dish! If you’re looking for some inspiration, make sure to check out our 2023 restaurant trends report.
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.
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.