What is the Best Size for a Restaurant Menu?

The Ideal Restaurant Menu

Hispanic woman looking at restaurant menu
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A common question I’m often asked is what is the perfect sized restaurant menu? Like many restaurant questions, there is no clear cut answer. The size of a menu depends on lots things: the size of the restaurant kitchen, the number of seats in the dining room, and the limitations of the people cooking the food. I lean toward smaller menus, which are easier to manage and can be supplemented with fun daily and nightly specials.

The good thing about a restaurant menu is that it can and should be revised every few months (or at least once a year), so if it is too big or too small, you can adjust it accordingly.

Problems With Large Restaurant Menus

Go big or go home – that seems to be the mantra of many new restaurant owners. They think offering customers a wide array of items will be more appealing. It doesn’t take long for many new restaurateurs to realize that an overly large menu includes an excessive amount of prep time, bigger chance of food spoilage and they ultimately cost more money than a smaller, more streamlined menu. Another drawback of a huge menu is that it is harder to properly train kitchen and wait staff on each of the items.

Create a Menu With the Customer in Mind

What do you want to put on your menu? Probably food you like to cook and eat, right? Remember, you aren’t serving what you want to serve – you are serving what your customers want to eat.

Often a menu is driven by the tastes and beliefs of the chef or owner. While personal creativity and vision is important when writing a restaurant menu, remember it isn’t just all about you (or your chef). If that were the case, my restaurant menus would have been comprised mainly of hard cheeses and cured meats, because those are two of my favorite foods and favorite things to cook with.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, if you are an ardent vegetarian or vegan, and that is all you plan to serve, it may be a hard sell to the public.

Understand the Link Between Your Kitchen and the Menu

Don’t write a dream menu without considering your kitchen equipment and stations. My first restaurant revamped and added a bunch of items requiring sautéing. We did not take into consideration the horrible, old, electric range that was not capable of producing more than two sautéed dishes at a time. The result was a long line of tickets and unhappy customers. Once we installed a new gas range, we were able to produce all the sautéed dishes as we needed – but we should have held off on changing the restaurant menu until we had our kitchen up to par. Check out this article which goes more in depth about how to plan your menu, based on the layout of your restaurant kitchen.

Storage is another area that gets overlooked when writing a new restaurant menu. The bigger your menu, the more ingredients you need, the more storage space you will need. Typically storage at a restaurant is at a premium. By limiting the number of ingredients, and cross utilizing ingredients, you can still have a varied menu, while decreasing the amount of storage space you’ll need.

Not Everything Has to Go on the Menu

Unusual or exotic foods are often expensive and don’t stand the test of time for most restaurant menus. Hot food trends often times become food fads, so be wary of adding any popular items to your regular menu (like bacon infused ice cream on the dessert menu). Instead, build your menu with perennial favorites. You can always dress up classic foods with your own signature ingredients. We did this with a standard filet mignon. We topped it with Lobster (cause we’re in Maine), asparagus and a homemade béarnaise sauce. It was by far our best seller. We cross utilized asparagus and lobster in several other dishes, so we kept our food cost in line and reduced spoilage in the kitchen.

It goes without saying that you should cook what you know. Experimenting is fine, but core menu should be familiar dishes you can whip up quickly.

Remember, no menu is set in stone. You should review and update it a couple times of year, and adjust your prices accordingly.