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The Menu Matters

The Menu Matters

(As published in PMQ Magazine December 2007 1st of 3 Articles)

  • Generates all your sales
  • Is placed in front of all your customers
  • Completely organizes kitchen staff and equipment to work with it
  • Is used to train floor staff members that are expected to memorize and understand it
  • Stands you apart from your completion
  • Sets the scene for the dining experience
  • Aids chefs to advertise their ability
  • Is most often, the only criteria that potential customers use to decide whether to enter in your establishment or not, etc, etc, etc.

Owners and managers can all spend a lot of time (and more and more money) on furniture and fittings, interiors, crockery, glassware, etc., but sometimes overlook a very important element of the restaurant – the menu. In fact I cannot tell you how many times the menu holder is completely overlooked and is only thought of at the last minute just before opening day.

In this article I hope to go some way to change this lack of importance sometimes designated to menus – both the menu holder and the contents of the menu respectively.

My experience has shown, especially in smaller venues where a menu change is proportionally more expensive, it is done less often. All owners today ought to look at making regular small changes – more often.

Most often the mere mentioning of the word “menu” or, more precisely,”changing of the menu” can cause an instant adverse reaction – a change in the blood pressure levels for all involved.

Sometimes this anxiety is fueled by the fact that the menus are seen as almost set in concrete. When it comes out it must be perfect – all in one chunk. For a lot of owners and managers there is an underlying belief that once a menu is completed it doesn’t have to be revisited for long time.

“Who’s got time to waste in this sort of stuff?”; This is just one mental justification we may use to delay menu changes. Others may include:

  • The hassle of contacting a desktop publisher and or graphic designer or printer, etc.
  • The actual monetary cost of the change
  • Getting the kitchen to contribute
  • Programming of PLUs for the dish changes on the register system
  • The time it takes to proof read it
  • Sourcing new ingredients and or suppliers
  • Getting the sequence of dishes correct and in the right order
  • Avoiding spelling or other mistakes etc.

The end result is that the more rigid the menu is the less flexible it is. This applies more pressure on you to get it right in one hit. The end result of this is (as with all things that are complicated) we tend to postpone the whole thing. This is especially true with menus that are commercially designed, printed and laminated or simply put together off the premises using other parties (i.e. desktop publishing facilities, printers etc).


My argument is that this should not be! How much should it cost to change the menu? More importantly, how much does it cost you not to change the menu?

Some points worth considering:

  • Factor in the wasted preparation time and the cost of ingredients that go in dishes that don’t sell! But, we keep on preparing this dish and its ingredients because “it’s on the menu”!
  • You come to understand other costs that have blown out in making a dish, such as preparation time, wastage, etc.
  • The effect on the bottom line where we have seen prices for some raw ingredients, due to weather, overseas demand etc, in our now continually interrupted and violated food chain. This occurrence can and has created some fresh produce items or meat or seafood items to go through the roof.
  • Frequent menu changes allow continual improvement of dishes – not just the wording of the dish but the physical combination of flavors and ingredients that comes from repetitive experience and client feedback.
  • The ability to move proven popular and well received dishes from the specials board to the main menu after client acceptance has been confirmed.
  • Keep kitchen staff interested and thinking by getting all members including apprentices, on a regular basis, to contribute a dish to the specials menu?
  • Constant attention and changes assist in reducing neglected menu covers that become tacky, creased or simply have gone beyond their usefulness.
  • Keeps your customer’s interest levels up. In your next menu change notice how much more attention and interest your regulars will take when reading the menu!

The aim should be to create a process where, menu changes should be as seamless as possible. Even small changes become feasible and, in the end, will certainly contribute to a profitable and well thought out document.


Steps to create this may include regular meetings between kitchen, floor and management with the menu and items in it as the agenda. Opening the channels of communication can clear the air and empower a team mentality, allowing the flow of valuable information to take place.

  • Use a menu cover that is flexible and allows you to change pages quickly and effortlessly as possible.
  • Print you menus, where possible, in-house. This can save money in printing costs and make the exercise less complicated and streamlined or, alternatively, develop and ongoing relationship with a desktop publisher and printer who can fit in with your timely menu changing requirements.
  • Use a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel and the merge cell feature to create menus (i.e. use a cell address to show the title and another to show description and price).
  • Create a new file for each page of the menu.
  • Create paper templates with artwork on them, ready to go, so that you can print your menu over them using your own printer giving that more finished, more professional look.
  • Save the file and format settings with your paper size, to start another page and to use again next time.
  • Make sure your menu projects a positive image of your establishment. If using a handheld menu, keep menu covers clean and presentable by applying a hygiene regiment that includes regular inspection and cleaning of the covers and pages.

Menus come in many forms – everything from placemats to blackboards to multiple page publications. Whichever format they all provide information to wet the diner’s appetite, as well as conveying a sense and of what to expect. We, as restaurant owners, need to communicate as positive an experience as we can, as this sets the scene for the rest of the dining experience.

Make your menu user friendly for your customer. Create the passageway for your customers to navigate through. Design it so things flow making it easy for customers to understand – the more our customers understand the more confident they feel about ordering – the more they can potentially order and the better overall experience for you and the customer.

Assign your menu the importance it deserves! Make it the centerpiece of your table setting and the decision making process. For further information about this article or to send a copy of your menu for feedback, please contact me on any of the following address; Menucorp; Attention Joe Ritorto, PO Box 495 Kew Victoria 3101, Phone 03 9855 0073 or Email: joe

PMQ’s Magazine Australia Information, as published, in this article, is intended be used as a guide only, and may not be necessary or apply to experienced restaurateurs, and may not suit all restaurants – professional independent advice is advised.