© Ravi Wazir, 2020

Menu Development & Control

Irrespective of the food and beverage concept in question, a menu remains a crucial means of communicating the establishment’s offer to a patron. It must thus be created, developed and managed with all due thought.

As with all businesses, in an F&B startup too, the menu initiative must begin with the customer in mind. Once the target market for the business has been identified, a menu development team must be formed. This team should ideally comprise of the business head, the chef, the marketing manager and the finance & accounts manager. They may cogitate over existing consumer preferences and possible future trends to arrive at broad cuisines, product categories and must-have dishes that need to be included.

Most menus comprise of a combination of familiar items, new innovations and signature dishes. This is what makes the guest feel both comfortable as well as engaged with a brand.

After trying out dishes internally, food trials may be conducted for a cross section of people from the target market with a view to incorporating their feedback. This gives us leads on which dishes, tastes, colours, textures, portion sizes, aromas etc. are likely to work in our favour. We can then tweak the menu accordingly.

The menu mix of an organisation helps it stand out from other offers in the market. Chefs must make that additional effort to deploy every possible resource to stimulate the organoleptic senses of the guests.

Menu finalization allows us to plan the equipment, manpower and other resources required to produce the food. It also paves the way for calculating food cost.

While the desired overall food cost of a particular restaurant may be let’s say 23% to 33%, your food cost for each dish can be whatever you want it to be. You can control the food cost percentage of a dish by choosing an appropriate selling price. So if you wish to offer greater value to your guest by selling a dish costing Rs.25/-, for Rs.75/- instead of Rs.100/-, your food cost percentage changes from 25% to 33%. There will always be some dishes that you sell at a low margin and others you sell for a high profit. Eventually however, it is the weighted average percentage that matters to the establishment.

The price point to portion size ratio of each dish must also be considered from a market acceptance point of view before a final decision. Restaurants of the same/similar cuisine and of the same/similar positioning level may be used as reference points for this exercise. This helps to ensure that our offer is in sync with the market.

Once the menu is decided conclusively in terms of content such as item description, price etc., options to present its physical avatar may be discussed with the creative team. Materials and design elements selected are based on the overall concept positioning and its target market. The number of copies required will depend on the scale of operation, the level of formality in service, the method of presentation, and the frequency of making new menus.

In a startup situation, guesstimates of what percentage each dish on the menu will contribute to the sales are rarely accurate. In an existing F&B concept however, historic records allow us to understand which dishes are most/least popular, which contribute the most/least towards the sales and which contribute the most/least towards the profits. In a running operation, the finance and control department plays a crucial role in highlighting which dish does what for the establishment and also for the guest.

Menu design is not simply about offering everything a menu can, like “variety” for instance. Variety may be suitable in an Udipi offer but not in a McDonalds. So rather than offer variety simply because it is possible, create your menu based on what your offer is about and what your guests would actually want/need.

Guests inevitably have expectations on what form a particular dish should take. This may be based on their previous experience of that dish in another establishment or the way your item description of the dish reads. The wider the gap between their expectation and your delivery, the greater the disappointment.

Listening to your consumers and adapting accordingly is one of the most elementary yet accurate ways of tweaking your menu to meet their expectations. Unfortunately, people are not always able to articulate what specifically they would like to see on your menu, now or in future. This is where imagination and innovation plays a huge role.

A team that keeps their ears to the ground on the menu front will go a long way in retaining consumer interest, and maximizing earnings for their brand.