This article is designed for the new Independent restaurant startup, and not an existing proven restaurant concept, or a restaurant franchise that is providing franchise style operating systems.   The recommended suggestions in this article are taken from excerpts in the book “So You Want to Open a Restaurant!” by Tom Wilscam, a principle partner in W&W Restaurant Group, a restaurant consulting company.


To design a proper menu, consider why you have selected the menu items and how they relate to your service system; be it fast food, fast casual or fine dining.  I.e. making a Caesar salad tableside does not work in a fast food restaurant. The menu and your service system are the foundation of your restaurant and must be compatible.


Begin with what you personally feel would be the right menu for your concept. Don’t focus only on what is practical and functional. By focusing only on the practical aspects of a menu, you will lose inspiration and creativity. Only after you have settled on what you think are the most appealing items for your menu is it time to consider their practicality.


Cost of product is a main consideration. For example, if your concept is fast-casual, then your price point will probably be in the $6.00 to $14.00 range. But since the wholesale cost of lobster or a prime cut of New York steak takes you out of the fast-casual ballpark, they would not be compatible with the pricing of your menu.  Your pricing must reflect your décor and service. A high-end gourmet menu would be completely out of place in a fast food outlet, with its simple décor and speedy service.


Another consideration is the skill level of your employees. If you plan on opening a fast-food or fast-casual restaurant, you need to hire kitchen personnel whose skills are commensurate with a pay scale driven by your menu price points. Conversely, a gourmet, table-side service restaurant, with higher menu price points, requires a higher level of employee skills and experience, and obviously a more appropriate pay scale.  The equipment needed for certain menu items is an important factor. The tools and equipment for a restaurant may differ from those of a construction company, but both are equally critical to getting the job done correctly

Your menu will dictate the needed equipment and its related cost.  For example, do you need a grill, or a deep fat fryer? If so, then you will need to factor in the cost of a grease trap and a vented hood with fire suppression equipment. This can easily add $25,000 to $50,000 to your equipment package.


Inventory requirements are another essential factor. In designing a menu, how you determine its offerings is critical to controlling your food and labor costs. Consider the number of items on the menu: the more you offer the more labor hours it takes to prep and serve each dish in a timely manner. An excess in inventory is money sitting on the shelf. And, the more menu items and ingredient inventories you have to account for, the more waste you are likely to incur. An important corollary of this—think how to wheel menu items together. This means using the same food products in as many different menu selections as possible.


In my experience, I have found that smaller is better. What many neophytes in this business fail to realize when designing a menu is that more menu choices is not necessarily better. In fact, the more choices offered, the more they will cannibalize one another. An effective way to add menu items while effectively controlling food costs is to offer daily specials. This way you can continue to offer a variety of selections that will keep your menu appealing. In preparing specials, be careful to prepare just enough, so that you will run out by the end of the day. This will help to control unnecessary waste.


You cannot create a menu that will be all things to all people, so focus on what you specialize in. Success is predicated on having the best, not the most.



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