The days of endlessly long menu lists are long gone, with most restaurants understanding that it is not possible to cater for all people and all tastes.
Instead, today, menus are well thought out; aimed at specific markets and specific menu and service styles – be they fine dining, casual or over the counter fast food.
Carefully planned menus ensure satisfied customers as well as organized and controlled purchasing which, in turn, minimizes wasted product and contributes to the organisation’s profitability.
When considering what menu items to offer there are a number of initial considerations, including who your customer is likely to be, different types and styles of menus for dishes, or food production ranges for different types of food outlets.
Identify organisational service style and cuisine
We will look at who the actual customer might be shortly, however the range of food preferences they may relate to could revolve around;
contemporary eating habits – this could relate to a range of different food choices that people make today and could include healthy foods, fast foods or unusual combinations and flavours. All of these will be influenced by a person’s lifestyle.
Popular menu items – in order for a restaurant to be, and remain, successful it may be necessary to keep a few popular and/or traditional items on the menu. While your main customer base may prefer trendy modern foods you still need to cater for those members of a party that do not.
Quick service foods – depending on the service type (breakfast, lunch or dinner) customers may not have a great deal of time to spend. While dinner service can, generally, be more relaxed, breakfast and lunch services may need to be faster so that people can get to work. This will have a significant impact on your menu; there is little point in offering outstanding menus for lunch if they take too long to prepare. The customer will simply not have the time to wait.
Seasonal dishes – this is a very important aspect of menu planning. The most successful establishments offer fresh foods of best qualify; this means ordering foods that are currently in season. This will also have an impact on cost; in season ingredients are generally less expensive than off season produce.
Variety of food products – the menu planning process will also be influenced by the type and variety of food products that is available to you. Also, as mentioned in the point above; there is little point in planning a menu around foods that are currently not in season. These will be difficult to get and therefore be very expensive
You will also need to consider different menu types when deciding on your menu. These might include;
Table d’hôte (or set) – This term basically means “all at one price.” Examples include a Sunday or holiday buffet for a specified (fixed) price where there may be 2 or 3 courses with only a selected number of dishes are available in each; a set price is charged for the entire selection.
À la carte – The word “a la carte” means individually priced; an a la carte menu lists a variety of dishes that are individually priced.
Buffet – this is a system of serving meals in which food is placed in a public area where the diners generally serve themselves. Buffets usually have some hot dishes, so the term cold buffet has been developed to describe formats lacking hot food.
Classical – a classical (French) menu is a sixteen course menu it comprises of Hors d’oeuvre (appetizer) Potage (soup) Oeufs (eggs) Farineaux (rice and pasta) Poisson (fish) Entrée (entry of 1st meat course) Sorbet (flavoured water) Reléve (meat course) Rôti (roast) Légumes (vegetables) Salades (salad) Buffet Froid (cold buffet) Entremet de sûcre (sweets) Savoureaux (savoury) Fromage (cheese) Desserts (fresh fruits and nuts) Coffee.
Cyclical – The word “cyclical” refers to “cycle”; the restaurant may, for example, plan a 28-day menu that is then repeated. Cyclical menus are mostly used in establishments such as hospitals or school or workplace canteens.
Degustation – this is a culinary term meaning a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods and focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company. Dégustation is more likely to involve sampling small portions of all of a chef’s signature dishes in one sitting. Usually consisting of eight or more courses, it may be accompanied by a matching wine degustation which complements each dish.
Designed for a specific purpose – menus may also be planned for specific events such as a function, festival, conference event.
Identify Customer Preferences and Characteristics
An important step in the planning process is having a full understanding of who your customer is, or who they are likely to be. There is little point in developing a classic French menu if your restaurant is located in a shopping mall where customers are looking for a quick, cheap meal. Nor is it practical to offer a specific menu or service style without first knowing who you will be catering to.
So you will need to do some research about your target customer group. This will mean accessing a range of sources to gather the right kind of information. Such sources might include….. continues in learner guide….