Ever wonder how much a menu actually costs?
It's pretty complicated work.
Last year I met with some prospective clients, as we were talking about their impending opening, I asked to see their menu. What they showed me was a list of dishes in their notes app. They didn’t have a menu. They didn’t have any recipes. They didn’t have anything at all cost out. They had an idea and an idea cannot be measured. I wondered how these men were going to open in 30 days without a menu in place.
Every restaurant needs a menu. They need them to develop their business plan, get a bank loan, and secure state and local licenses. They also need them to change two to four times a year. The specific food, menu, recipes, specials are the reasons folx come to your restaurant. Sure the drinks, atmosphere, and service all play a part but bars also exist. If people have made the choice to get in their cars and drive all the way to your restaurant, you need to have a menu that will entice. They come for the food. Don’t fuck it up by throwing together a menu that your guests can get at any other place closer to their house.
Developing a menu might seem easy. What do you really need? A few apps, mains, sides, and desserts. Easy right? No. Not even a little. Your menu and by extension your recipes are the reason people come back again and again. Once you know what kind of restaurant you want you can write the menu --for an Italian place you’ll need two salads, a burrata dish, five kinds of pasta, four pizzas, and five protein dishes. The items can be classics but you must make the best version of each dish to set yourselves apart from the other 50 Italian spots in your town.
I once had another potential client reach out to me to refresh their menu for a mid-Covid Spring 2021 opening. They laid off their entire kitchen staff including the head chef and didn’t have any of their recipes written down. In essence, what they had was a list of items that needed recipes.
This is the flow of how a recipe moves from idea to table.
Recipe idea and development (this can take months)
Recipe writing for the in house ‘bible’ (for the Restaurant cookbook) using weights or volume consistently
Supply chain forecasting
Spreadsheets with supplies, vendor name, par level
Walking through all the recipes with the line chefs to ensure consistency
Prepping all the new ingredients
Staff training BoH (firing the dish)
Staff training FoH (tasting/selling the dish)
Introduce the new menu to guests
As you can imagine this is a big job, but it only has to be done once. All menu edits after this will be similar but so, so much easier because the systems, supply chains, and vendors will be in place with updated pricing and portioning. With seasonal menu changes, only a few dishes will change, lighter recipes for summer, heavier ones for the cold months. We all have dishes on our menus that we cannot change. The fan favs, the number one, two, and three sellers according to your P-Mix. Seasonal changes are so much easier when you only need to change the setups on your protein dishes. Guests will look for a chicken dish or a steak, changing the accompaniment each season is simple. The initial setup takes time and is tedious. However, I have never seen a restaurant project go sideways from too much planning.
You can’t gloss over any of these steps. Costing each menu item is vital, just as vital as consistent and accurate inventory. It helps keep money in the bank, it lets everyone in the kitchen know how well they are doing their jobs. Creative chefs are wonderful but if they can’t keep their food costs in line you can’t keep the doors open.
Side note: this is often why hotel chefs can’t make the jump to stand alone properties, for a hotel the restaurant is an amenity that does not need to have a hard food cost.
Portioning ensures that the costing is accurate for each shift. Order guides, prep guides, and detailed recipes allow your staff to make good decisions when ordering and prepping their stations. Making sure that each member of the kitchen team understands and can make the dishes consistently helps keep money in the bank account and your customers happy.
Consistency is key. A regular customer should never ask “who’s back there cooking today?” They should be confident that no matter who’s on the line their gnocchi dish will taste the same as every other visit.
Introducing the menu to the front-of-house staff is vital --they are your sales force. How many times have you chosen your main only to be swayed by a server who described the special so enthusiastically that you changed your mind? I cannot begin to count how many places I’ve visited and had the server tell me “I don’t know, we didn’t get to try that”, it’s not helpful. It makes me think that management doesn’t care about employee development. If they don’t care about educating their most important resource, what else are they slacking on? Now I have to go wash my hands to check on the cleanliness of their restroom before I order in case we need to leave. I’m not interested in eating in a dirty place, but I digress.
Building a menu is like building a good house. If your base is solid you’ll only need to refresh the paint and window treatments occasionally.
I’m getting a PET scan later today to see if the treatment I’m on is containing the cancer. While my body doesn’t hurt the fatigue is a real challenge. I’ll let you know how it all goes down.
I found this absolutely amazing Korean band called Leenalchi that consists of four traditional Korean folk singers, two bass guitars, and a drum. I cannot stop dancing to their hypnotic music.
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