Idea in a Nutshell

How do you write a restaurant menu? 

1. Decide on a menu concept and style.

2. Plan your menu offerings.

3. Determine price for each item.

4. Plan menu layout and design.

5. Keep descriptions short but engage the senses.

6. Include graphics or high-quality images of unique food items.

7. Decide what other information to include in the menu.

Writing a restaurant menu isn’t just about listing down food items you can cook and serve your diners. A menu represents your restaurant’s concept and image. As such, an effectively written and well-designed menu allows diners to know what they can expect from you. If you meet these expectations by giving them a great dining experience, you can be assured of customers who will come back and recommend you to their friends.

What You Need Before Writing Your Restaurant Menu

Knowing the kind of diners you want to cater to helps with all other decisions you make pertaining to your restaurant, including your location, the food you serve, your pricing, and even the ambiance. 

Is it people on the go? Then serve food that’s quick to prepare and affordable, and keep your menu short. Is it the fit and health-conscious? Then serve organic or plant-based dishes, and include a list of ingredients, and maybe even a calorie count, in your menu. 

How much are you willing to spend for your menu? Your budget will dictate the material you will be using for it, the graphics and images, and the quality of your prints. Keep in mind that professional food photographers and graphic artists may not come cheap. 

How to Write Your Restaurant Menu: A Step-by-Step Guide

Here is a step-by-step list of the things you need to do to come up with an effective restaurant menu:


Decide on a Menu Concept and Style.

Your menu concept is your main product line, which means the cuisine or type of food you want to serve (American, Italian, Mediterranean, sushi, desserts, etc.). This concept will then define your service style (fine dining, bistro, fast food, family style, etc.), and even your restaurant’s décor and ambiance. 

Deciding on these things will give you a general idea of the size of your food selection, the price range of your offerings, and the overall look of your menu, among other things.  


Plan your Menu Offerings.

Create a list of food items, beverages, and desserts you want to offer. Make sure there is something for everyone, and keep a balance between old favorites and unique offerings. You should also make sure that these dishes are easy for your kitchen staff to replicate, the ingredients can be easily sourced, and their cost can help maintain your profit.

You should keep in mind that while offering many food choices would demonstrate your culinary expertise, it is also important not to stress and overwhelm your diners. In The Paradox of Choice,  psychologists noted that too many choices can lead to anxiety, high expectations, regret, and even self-blame if one’s selection does not work out.


Determine the Price for Each Item.

Restaurant menu pricing is the driving force behind the success of your business – as sales is your only source of revenue. So, make sure to price your dishes properly as this is where you will get the funds for other essentials like rental, equipment, utilities, employee salaries, and ingredients.

To be able to calculate this, you first need to decide on your ideal food cost percentage, which is the portion of sales that is spent on food. For most restaurants, the average food cost percentage is 25 to 35 percent.  

You will then have to determine the raw food cost of each dish. You get this by adding the total cost of all ingredients used. Then calculate your price for each item by dividing its raw food cost by your ideal food cost percentage (Price = Raw Food Cost of Item / Ideal Food Cost Percentage).


Plan the Menu Layout and Design.

Decide on the overall look of your menu. Is it going to appear fun and quirky, or simple and elegant? Remember that your menu layout and design, including the font and colors, should complement your restaurant’s feel and the kind of food your serve.

You should also decide whether your menu is going to be printed on paper and serve as a placemat, printed on a foldable cardboard, or etched on a wooden board. Knowing these would give you an idea of how customers would be holding and reading your menu. As such, you can optimize your layout in a way that it attracts their attention toward your house specialty.

There are other things you need to consider design-wise. According to Thrillist, you should show your diners all food items at once and that anything more than a three-fold menu is too big and hard to process. After all, a customer spends an average of only 109 seconds on a menu. The article also stated to add prices and which portion of the menu draws the eyes first.


Keep Descriptions Short but Engage the Senses.

It is best to write descriptions for each food item and highlight what makes your recipe special and unique. But while you need to keep your descriptions short, you should also write them in a way that engages your diners’ senses. Use sensory words like “crispy,” “melt-in-your-mouth,” and “explosion of flavors.” Doing this can drive their appetite.

Researchers have found that using description labels results to a 27-percent increase in sales and improved customers’ attitude toward the food.

Moreover, use the descriptions portion to inform diners of the ingredients used, especially the allergy-causing ones like nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, shellfish, fish, and soy.



Include Graphics or High- quality Images of Unique Food Items.

Give the eyes a break from all text by adding in graphics. If you are a casual dining restaurant or a fast-food, you may also add high-quality photos of your specialty dishes. Hire professional photographers and food stylists to make sure that the photos are bright and vivid, and would highlight all the colors and textures of your food. 


Decide what other information to include inthe menu.

If you have enough space left on the menu, you might want to include other information, like locations and phone numbers of your other branches. Other menus also add tidbits and trivia about certain ingredients and dishes, like where it came from and how it originated.

These steps are the key to creating an effective restaurant menu. Each one requires a lot of thought and careful planning on your part because your menu speaks about your vision and what you have to offer. It is what makes people decide to stay at your restaurant and order, or to leave. Ultimately, it is what makes them decide to come back.

Do you find this guide helpful? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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