Menu Design 101: Is Your Restaurant's Menu the Right Size?

When it comes to menu design, chefs and restaurant owners often struggle with the concept of size. Sometimes there are too many menu items for customers to mentally process and for the kitchen staff to handle. Other times, chefs fail to consider adding more dishes to a narrow menu even when they could use ingredients already in-house to boost profitability. And let's not forget when customers ask for modifications; chefs must have a protocol set for when these situations arise. Here are some tips and considerations to think about when planning the size of your menu to optimize culinary performance and profits.

Consider the Type of Restaurant You Run

Customers have expectations for certain types of restaurants. If you run a lunch spot, your menu should account for people expecting sandwiches, salads, soups, and other lunch staples. If you run a fine-dining Mexican establishment, customers will expect fancy takes on tacos, moles, and margaritas.

How you choose to approach your menu options depends on your level of creativity and inclination, as well as your customers' tastes. Analyze the cost and sales of each menu item frequently (at least once per quarter) to see if you can make costly, high-selling items more profitable with a few tweaks. You may also want to remove unpopular, low-margin dishes, and add other options to your menu instead.

Think about the Size of Your Staff and Kitchen

Some chefs can create phenomenal food in the smallest of spaces with little help. But unless you don't mind feeling too close for comfort with your cooks every time you work, it's crucial to consider the size of your kitchen and the number of prep and line cooks on staff when you delve into your menu design.

If you run a small restaurant with only a few cooks, your menu's variety has to be at a level that doesn't overwhelm your kitchen when a rush hits. On the flip side, if you oversee a larger establishment with the manpower to prep an elaborate array of options, you have the luxury of putting out an expansive menu or creating dishes that require more time, skill, and technique to put together.

Take into Account Your Hours of Operation

The less your restaurant is open, the smaller your menu should be. Unless you run a bagel shop or a traditional diner that serves breakfast and lunch, your menu design does not require a multitude of versions of the same thing (and tons of substitutions). Instead, you should focus on nailing down and perfecting less dishes.

Dinner establishments that are only open after 5:00 p.m. should streamline their menus by featuring no more than ten appetizers, ten main courses, and six desserts, according to Ezra Eichelberger of the Culinary Institute of America.

Don't Forget about Customer Modification Requests

This is completely up to you, but understand that customers will ask you to make changes and substitutions to your menu items. This is inevitable, so it's vital to have a plan in place so your front-of-house staff knows what to say and do, and so your cooks don't have a fit. The size of your menu and amount of ingredients you offer can greatly affect how often this happens, so keep that in mind. Some chefs will be stubborn when it comes to modifications, but the consequence of this approach is that some customers may complain to your staff and vocalize their dissatisfaction later on social media. If you think your reputation can handle this kind of criticism, you're free to act as you wish. You should, however, always be courteous and respectful of those who have food allergies.

When deciding how big your menu should be, start with these tips. Make sure your menu also has an appealing design, and you can even use psychological menu tricks, such as putting desserts on a separate menu and eliminating dollar signs from prices, to up your revenue.