A Guide to Building the Most Effective Restaurant Menu

What You Need to Know About Creating a Restaurant Menu

Woman looking at menu
••• James Doberman / Getty Images

A good menu is at the heart of every successful restaurant. It's a showcase for the restaurant’s signature dishes and it reflects the theme, ambiance, and style of the establishment. Restaurant menus can be very formal—think limited menu items printed on heavy paper in a fancy font—or ultra casual, like daily specials written on a chalkboard.

Both get the job done but depend on the type of dining you offer but in either case, you'll want to keep a few things in mind.

Before You Write a Restaurant Menu

Be sure you understand the link between the restaurant kitchen and the menu. The size and setup of your kitchen will directly impact the size and style of your menu. A smaller kitchen will obviously limit the variety of the dishes you can serve.

This isn’t to say that you can’t offer a wide number of items. Some tiny restaurant kitchens feature over 100 items on their menus. The secret is to cross-utilize many ingredients and to use only two or three different kitchen stations.

What to Avoid on a Restaurant Menu

You'll want to avoid hard-to-read fonts or overly descriptive language. Both can make customers wonder if they're actually ordering what they think they're ordering. They might hesitate and select something else if they're not sure, particularly if the initial item was a bit on the pricey side. 

Remember, your menu is a like your restaurant's ambassador and you'll want to put your best foot forward.

How to Price a Restaurant Menu

Understanding your food costs is vital to pricing any restaurant menu. You'll want to make sure you're making enough of a profit with your menu prices while remaining competitive with other restaurants in your area. You should also know when to use market price on your restaurant menu when you're offering highly seasonal items like seafood, 

Special Occasion Menus

Many restaurants create different menus for special occasions. Busy holidays like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day are good times to consider offering a prix fixe menu. This type of menu limits the number of items available at a given time, and this makes it easier for the kitchen to turn out a large number of meals in a short span.

Even if it isn’t a holiday, a prix fixe menu also acts as a great promotion during slow times. Special two-for-one prix fixe menus or wine-tasting prix fixe menus are great restaurant promotions. They can get people through the door even—and especially—during tough economic times.

The Bottom Line 

Writing a restaurant menu can be a lot of fun, just like choosing a restaurant name. But be sure to temper your creative side with cost-effective ingredients, proper pricing, and easy-to-understand descriptions of what you're offering.

And be ready to adapt. Maybe you thought an item would fly out of the kitchen but it isn’t that popular after all. Or perhaps the cost of a certain ingredient has sky-rocketed since you first drafted your menu. Don’t be afraid to add or change items periodically. It’s your restaurant, after all!