9 Things to Consider When Making a Restaurant Menu

9 Things to Consider When Making a Restaurant Menu

9 Things to Consider When Making a Restaurant Menu banner

You’re close to realizing your dream of opening your own restaurant. You have the space and designed it to be a cozy and inviting eatery. You’ve hired key staff and are working on a marketing plan. Now it’s time to finalize your menu and put those items of yours into a detailed menu that will communicate your passion for food to your guests and entice them to try your culinary offerings again and again. How do you do this? We’ve broken it down into key decisions you need to make as you are developing your menu.


The first step to creating your menu is to tightly define your concept. You may have vague or even well-formed ideas about this, but it is a good idea to put them down on paper to use as a reference as you decide on specific menu items and your overall menu layout. For example, is it a casual or more formal restaurant? Are you concentrating on a particular type of cuisine, such as seafood? Or maybe of a region, such as the South Pacific? Are you offering a full menu, from appetizers to desserts, or will you concentrate on one area, such as sandwiches or pasta entrees?

How many menu items should you have?

Another key part of developing your menu concept is deciding how many menu items to have. You want to have enough to be interesting to your customers, but you don’t want to try to do so many things that your kitchen staff is struggling to make them well. You also don’t want to have any more food inventory costs than necessary. In the UK, a 2013 study by Bournemouth University found that the optimum number of menu items for fine dining and sit-down restaurants was seven starters and desserts, with ten main courses.

Defining your target customer

Of course, part of defining your menu concept and deciding how many and what menu items you need is identifying your target customer. Are you looking to attract young customers or an older clientele? Do you want to concentrate on a large lunch crowd of office workers or a happy hour, after-work audience? Knowing whom you are trying to appeal to will help keep your menu development on track.


The next step to creating your menu is to list the ingredients you’ll need to create each dish. Are these ingredients readily available? Will they continue to be available during the entire year, or are they seasonal? Will there be large price variations during the year?


After you’ve finalized your menu choices and found reliable sources for all the necessary ingredients, it’s time to prepare the dishes. Taste them before serving so that you can make any adjustments as needed.

It’s a good idea to have some friends and key staff members taste the dishes and give you input so that you’ll have a variety of opinions outside your own.


Once you’ve decided that all your menu items are delicious and enticing, you need to write out descriptions that will communicate their taste and presentation to your guests. Guests typically spend less than 90 seconds perusing a menu, so you want text that will grab their interest quickly.

Start with the name of the dish, ideally one that succinctly describes the item. You don’t want to force the guest to read every item description on the menu. Follow this with the key ingredients. You don’t have to add every single ingredient. Feature the main ones and any that might be an allergy concern, such as nuts or seafood. After you’ve named the ingredients, you can add a single sentence about what makes the item special, things like your grandmother’s recipe, flaky crust, or complex flavors.


The next step is setting the price for each item. Setting your menu prices can be trickier than it sounds. You want to make a reasonable profit on each item, but you don’t want to price your items so high that guests won’t order them. Your guests’ tolerance for pricing will depend on your restaurant theme (casual or formal), your location, and your target customer.

To start, determine your food cost percentage. Most successful restaurants spend no more than 25 to 35 percent on the ingredients in their menu items. You can arrive at your menu price by dividing the cost of the ingredients by your target food cost percentage. For example, suppose the cost of the ingredients in an item is $6, and you’ve chosen 25 percent as your food cost percentage. In that case, you divide $6.00 by 25% to arrive at your menu price ($24.00).

You’ll also want to do some market research and see how other restaurants like yours are pricing their menu items. Ideally, you’ll want to price yours comparably to your competition and differentiate your eatery on its service, popularity, ambiance, and other elements beyond price.


A well-organized menu will make it easier for guests to decide what they want. Divide it into logical sections, such as appetizers, entrees, beverages, desserts, and the like. Keep the section titles unassuming and straight to the point. 


The fonts you choose for your menu also affect how easily people can read it. Stick with one or two complementary fonts to keep the menu from looking busy and difficult to read. Good fonts include Helvetica, the most popular and one of the easiest to read fonts; Baskerville, a timeless classic; and the more modern Montserrat.


Colors can also influence your guests and evoke emotions that make them more or less likely to order from your menu. You’ll want to avoid using bold colors for the menu item descriptions since this can make the menu harder to read. However, you can be as creative as you’d like with the cover and the page borders of your menu.

Red and yellow are said to excite the taste buds and are thus good choices for menus. Green has an eco-friendly and healthy connotation. Use black to give your menu a high-end feel and brown to give your menu a warm, wholesome look.


Now that you’ve got all your information and pricing set and you’ve decided on fonts and colors, it’s time to put it all together. You can do this yourself, or you can outsource the project to a graphic design company. There are pros and cons to both approaches:

Design it yourself with a graphic design program

The advantages of doing your own menu design include affordability. You don’t have to pay for someone else’s time and design expertise. You also have more control over the timeline and the final result.

Good design programs to use for your menu creation include Canva, iMenuPro, and Adobe Spark.

Hire a design company or freelancer

The other option is to hire a graphic design firm or individual to create your menu. The advantage of this approach is that you get the expertise of a graphic design professional. You’ll also save the time you and your team would have spent doing the job yourself. Plus, a good design firm can help coordinate all your restaurant branding, including signage, social media pages, and mobile apps.


After spending all this time and effort creating your restaurant menu, it’s tempting just to leave it in place forever. However, there are several good reasons for updating your menu. These include price increases on ingredients, limited or seasonal availability of key ingredients, and simply offering new dining experiences to your guests.

The conventional industry wisdom is updating your menu at least once a year to revisit costs and ensure that your menu items continue to be profitable. What you decide to do with your menu depends on your type of restaurant, your number of menu items, and your clientele.


Special menus offer an opportunity to take advantage of seasonal ingredients and events like holidays and festivals without creating an entirely new menu. These special menus can be inserted into the regular menu and discarded after the ingredients are no longer available or the event is over. You can even offer a weekly or monthly special insert to augment your regular menu offerings. Like your regular menu, you should evaluate these items for taste, ingredient availability, and profitability before being included in the special menu.


Johnson & Wales University offers a Bachelor of Science in Food & Beverage Entrepreneurship. It’s a great way to hone your management skills, learn the basics of restaurant ownership and increase the odds of your restaurant succeeding. This two-year degree program is available to students who already have an associate degree and features courses in management strategies, business planning, and marketing in the restaurant industry. This degree program can be completed entirely via online classes to make it easier for budding restaurant entrepreneurs.

If you’re interested in starting your own restaurant and creating your own menu, earn your bachelor’s degree in Food & Beverage Entrepreneurship from JWU. To learn more, complete the Request Info Form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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