If you've been in the restaurant industry for long enough, you'll know how important a good restaurant menu can be. Whether your menu is what brings customers in the front door or if your menu design and item placement is what drives profit to your business, there is no denying the role a well thought out menu plays.
If you've finally decided your menu needs a refreshing look, or a few new menu items, you've come to the right place. This article will walk you through the 7 steps to follow to easily come up with new restaurant menu ideas. No creative experience necessary.
Search for Inspiration
The core of any creative process is first and foremost inspiration. Without inspiration driving your creative decisions, your ideas will lack passion, and ultimately this will show in your final product.
If you aren’t a creative person by default there is nothing to worry about as this step in finding new menu ideas is probably the easiest. It is just a matter of surrounding yourself with examples and ideas related to what you are trying to recreate, and with enough time you will be inspired.
Where to Find Restaurant Menu Inspiration
The first and probably most relevant method is by using Pinterest. Pinterest is a great website for anything design or idea oriented, and will be your best friend when trying to come up with new ideas for your restaurant menu. A simple search within Pinterest for “menu ideas” will generate thousands of results with everything from new menu item ideas to menu design templates and inspiration.
Creating a Pinterest account will also allow you to create your own ‘menu board’ where you can then pin your favorite results to look through at a later date.
Google Image Search
A slightly more obvious tool is Google image search. A quick search on the popular search engine for anything related to restaurant menus and menu design will generate millions of results. Scroll through these results to start getting an idea of what you like and don’t like. Create a folder on your computer where you can save your favorites to look through at a later date.
Check out competition
This method of generating inspiration is not as easy as the previous three, but may yield more impactful results. Head to other restaurants in the area and check out their menus, see what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. This method is priceless as it allows you get an idea of what may work for your restaurant without having to bear the cost of trying it out and potentially failing.
Instagram and Facebook
Instagram and Facebook are probably the last place you would think to check for restaurant menu ideas. Surprisingly though these can be some of the best places to flock to when in need of some inspiration. This is due to the rise in popularity of short form recipe videos. You’ve probably seen them before while scrolling through the social media sites, top down videos that show a pair of hands putting together delicious and unique recipes.
Follow some of these recipe pages online to stay up to date on the latest food trends to replicate at your restaurant. These pages are also great to help reinvent some of your preexisting dishes. For example, chicken tenders are a pretty straightforward dish to make that everyone already knows, but there are hundreds of other methods of preparing this popular dish that could be more relevant.
Keep a list of ideas
This last tip ties in the previous ones. Make sure that during the inspiration phase of coming up with new restaurant menu ideas you are carrying a small notebook with you at all times. You’ll never know when a brilliant idea will come to mind, and you’re going to want to write it down somewhere. Any modern phone with a notes app will also be a perfect substitution.
In the restaurant industry, you are usually working alongside employees that have been in the food and beverage business for years. It doesn’t hurt to consult your coworkers and peers on what they believe will work and what won’t.
When you are in a management position, you often don’t interact with as many customers as other employees might. Take the time to speak to your waiters/waitresses as well as bartenders. Find out what they think about the current menu and what they believe can be done to improve it.
An example is if your restaurant has a 10 page menu, but according to your staff, most customers only read up until page 5. You now know that 10 pages is way too much and to find a way to make 5 pages work better for your restaurant.
Make sure it follows a theme
The theme of a restaurant menu is probably the most important aspect behind the menu items themselves. Despite what you might believe, every restaurant menu needs a theme that fits into your brand. Some restaurants try to appeal to every kind of customer. And this often leads to a messy incoherent menu, that confuses their customers more than it informs.
The reason most restaurant operators shy away from a specific menu is because they are worried they won’t appeal to as many customers as possible. And while that is true, it’s also a good thing, not something to avoid. By appealing to a certain demographic, you have the ability to provide more targeted and effective restaurant marketing, thereby drawing in a relevant crowd.
There are numerous other benefits to a restaurant theme. Limiting your selection of dishes makes it easier for kitchen staff to navigate the menu, makes it cheaper to design and deploy, and makes it easier on your front of house to explain and make suggestions.
Find a menu formula that works
This portion of coming up with new menu ideas may be a new one to you.
Essentially, you need to come up with a menu formula of sorts. Once you’ve come up with a slew of ideas for your new restaurant menu, you’re going to need to figure out how to implement them in the best way possible. This is where a menu formula will come in handy.
A menu formula is essentially a method of figuring out not only what categories you want to include in your menu, but also how many menu items you want in each. To figure out this information, ask yourself a series of questions.
- How many dishes and ideas for dishes do you have in total?
- How many of these dishes are starters?
- How many of these are main courses?
- What are their categories?
- How many are desserts?
- What ratio of dishes do you want for vegetarian vs non vegetarian dishes?
- How many kids meals do you want?
There are a multitude of questions you can ask to help come up with a rough formula for your menu. Once you’ve answered them all, you can begin to properly plan and build your final menu.
Fill in the empty spots
So now that you’ve come up with inspiration and a basic menu formula, it's time to start dispersing your menu items accordingly. You know the sections you want in your menu as well as the number and type of dishes you want in each, the rest is just a matter of filling in the blanks.
To make this process easier, start with the dishes you know you have to include in your menu. For example, items such as soups and salads are more or less the same across the board. And so they should be the first ones you find a spot for within your menu.
After you’ve gone through those, you can start to mix and match some of the newer items that you want to incorporate. Make sure to stick to your theme and you’ll be fine.
Finally, once your new menu is complete, make sure to update all your existing platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and your restaurant reservation system with the modified version.
Tip: Performing food cost analysis before choosing which menu items make it to your improved menu is a great way to maximize profit generated from your dishes and to incorporate menu engineering practices into the mix. Also think about ways to lower your food cost.
Put together your final menu
Now that you have planned every aspect of your menu, it’s time to put all your ideas into a final product. There are a number of ways you can go about this.
Assuming you have no graphic design experience and also have no time to learn, you could hire a freelance graphic designer to put together your restaurant menu for a decent price.
DIY Menu Makers
If you don’t have the budget to allocate to a graphic designer, your best bet is to use a free online restaurant menu maker. These tools make restaurant building an easy process that anyone can accomplish with any experience level.
Most menu makers are free, but some will come at a cost, regardless they are much cheaper than hiring a graphic designer.
If the first two options are out of the picture for money or time, the last option is to use pre-made menu templates and just edit the text to match your menu. While this is by far the easiest method, it is also without a doubt the least personal. Staying through to your theme is going to be rather difficult when using templates due to the limited customizability.
Study, make notes, and repeat
Now that you’ve put together your new restaurant menu, you enter the testing phase. In this phase you should be studying how the new menu performs. Look out for any complaints or suggestions from customers and make note.
Make note about which dishes are selling and which aren’t as well so that in a few months when you revisit this process you have a basic idea of the essentials that need to be taken care of before anything else.