How do I build a successful menu for my restaurant?

by Marylise Fabro

Advice to the restaurant owners and manager on how to create a successful menu.

A restaurant lives or dies by its menu. No matter how great a concept you might have and no matter how stunning your decor, if people don’t like eating the food at your establishment, your business will be very short-lived. Creating a successful menu for your restaurant is a key part of building a profitable business, so we’ve put together some steps you can take to make sure diners enjoy every last bite of their meal.

7 important factors to create your menu are:

  • Understand your target market and your community
  • Keep it simple, easy to read, and clearly organized
  • Offer a variety of dishes to cater to everyone's needs
  • Price items appropriately and logically
  • Focus on quality ingredients (and make it known!)
  • Experiment with a few new dishes
  • Test, evaluate, and refine

Understand your target market:

Knowing your target market is essential for building a successful menu. Consider your restaurant's location, demographic, and target audience. Your menu should appeal to your ideal diner’s tastes and preferences.

Keep it simple:

A menu that is easy to read and understand is essential for success. Avoid overwhelming customers with too many choices or complex dishes. Instead, focus on a few core items and do them really well. Of course, you’ll want to have the menu structured according to clear categories, such as appetizers, main courses, salads, or desserts. 

Offer a variety of dishes:

While it's important to keep your menu simple, it's also important to offer a variety of dishes to cater to different tastes and preferences. For example, you can offer vegetarian and gluten-free options, so that everyone in a big group can enjoy their night out together. Or you can rotate in seasonal dishes to keep diners coming back to see what’s new.

Price items appropriately:

Pricing your menu items appropriately is essential for success and relates very closely with understanding your target market. Make sure you are pricing items to cover your costs, while still offering value to customers. Consider the cost of ingredients, preparation time, and other overhead fees when setting prices.

Focus on quality ingredients:

Using high-quality ingredients is essential for building a successful menu. Customers are willing to pay more for dishes that use fresh, locally sourced, and high-quality ingredients. Savvy diners can tell when you’ve tried to save money by using “on the verge of going bad” produce and will not be pleased at the sight of wilted salad greens.

Experiment with new dishes:

Don't be afraid to experiment with new dishes and flavors on your menu. Consider seasonal items or limited-time offers to keep your menu fresh and interesting. If you discover that a new dish is an instant hit, consider working it into your list of core dishes.

Test and refine:

Once you have created your menu, test it with customers and gather feedback. Refine your menu based on customer feedback and sales data to optimize for profitability and customer satisfaction. A menu is not a “set it and forget it” part of your restaurant.

Don’t forget the importance of presentation:

Many diners love to post pictures of their beautiful meals on social media – becoming trusted ambassadors for your restaurant. By making sure the food is presented with attention to detail, you can bet photos will appear in the timelines of your customers’ friends, or even in their reviews on platforms like Google and Yelp.

By following these steps, you can create a successful menu that not only satisfies your customers’ cravings, but inspires them to spread the word to friends and family. While you’re at it, be sure to have someone proofread your menu before printing hundreds of copies of it. After all, you want people to remember you for the delicious meal they ate, not for the hilarious typos in your menu.