The Best Menu Building Practices for Food Businesses
The thing about menus is that any kind of menu can work. Large menus with 100+ items, small menus with less than 10 items, and every kind of menu in between. This blog will teach you what makes a good menu and the best menu building practices.
Another way to look at your menu is what products or services do you offer. This is why your menu is heavily dependent on your food business concept. We at Food Business Machines break down food businesses into a few categories: specialty restaurants, general restaurants, and corporate restaurants. Each category is going to have a way different looking menu.
Menu building is one of the most exciting times of establishing your food business. We at Food Business Machines have helped restaurants add new concepts to their existing menu and we’ve built new menus completely from scratch!
In this blog you will find our best practices for building a food business menu. We will go over: building a menu from scratch, signature products, hook products, and seasonal offerings.
Your Food Business Concept
Your menu is heavily dependent on your food business concept. When we think about building a menu, the first thing we think about is: what kind of food business is it? Is it a burger shop? Steakhouse? Fried chicken shop? Sub shop? Coffee shop? Notice how your food products, and by extension, your menu changes depending on your food business concept?
When you go to a steakhouse, what kinds of food do you expect on the menu? When you go to an ice cream shop, what kind of foods do you expect on the menu? How come you don’t expect to buy a ribeye at Baskin Robbins? This may seem obvious, but put yourself in a customer’s shoes. They are expecting a certain type of food at a certain type of food business establishment.
Use this to your advantage when building your menu. What’s your ideal customer's perception of what’s on your menu? Cater to them and put all the items they love!
Now, most of the time when one decides to start a food business, they will already have an idea of what kind of food business concept they want to start. So step one is already done for most people, the next thing to think about is what does your ideal customer expect on the menu?
If you’re having trouble with your food business concept, we can further categorize food businesses into 3 categories.
- Specialty Restaurants - Restaurants that specialize in 1 type of product, or 1 cuisine style. For example, a pizza restaurant (they specialize in only pizzas) or an Indian restaurant (they specialize in only Indian cuisine). You can do a specialty restaurant for anything… I’ve seen salad bar concepts, grilled cheese concepts, ramen concepts, anything can work.
- General Restaurants - Restaurants that do a bit of everything. They’ll have an option to appeal to everybody, but usually food quality diminishes because of too many products. We think of general restaurants as a jack of all trades, master of none. For example, a 24/7 diner serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or an all-you-can-eat buffet.
- Corporate Restaurants - These are recognizable brand name restaurants that you see everywhere. McDonalds, Starbucks, Wendy’s, KFC, and other franchises. These kinds of restaurants have a systemized process to make consistent food every time. The entire restaurant model is to create easy, replicable food every time. Your back of the house operations are very systemized. Generally speaking, if you were to open a corporate restaurant, your menu would be pre-established and you can’t go outside of it. If you envision yourself growing a chain of restaurants, you will have to make a menu of easy to follow recipes and systemize the entire process for a consistent final product.
To review, before menu-building even begins, you’ll need to answer these questions:
As you continue reading, we’re going to be building a sample menu together. First, we’ll need to answer the above questions, so let’s do it together.
1) What is my food business concept?
For our example, we’ll be using a Burger Shop as our food business concept.
2) Who is my ideal customer?
Our ideal customer is small families of 4 and primarily young men aged 15-35.
3) What do they expect on the menu?
We’re a burger shop. So they would expect burgers, cheeseburgers, fries, chicken burgers, and Soda drinks. maybe: chicken strips, milkshakes, hot dogs, poutine. We'd include a vegetarian and vegan option as well.
Now let’s move on…
Our Winning Menu Building Process
We believe that all the best menus in the world follow our menu building principles in some way.
Food Business Menus are built out of
- Core Products
- Signature Products
- Hook Products
- Seasonal Products
These are the standard items your customers will expect you to carry. These generally build up the bulk of your menu.
If we’re doing a menu of 8 burgers, I would have 4-5 core products. These products are picked from just meeting what I think my customers' expectations are. (And even better than what you think - ask your ideal customers what they’d want!)
For our sample burger menu, our core products would be: 1. Single burger 2. Double Burger 3. Cheeseburger 4. Double cheeseburger 5. Vegan Burger
These are your brand name products. These products are what your food business is known for. These are products you can’t get anywhere else. These are your go-to recommendation products: You generally will have only 1 or 2 signature products.
When you hear Big Mac, you don’t think of anywhere else but McDonalds. Burger King has the whopper. Even though they are both just burgers, you can’t get it anywhere else. When you go to burger king you don’t want a burger, you can get that anywhere.. you want a Whopper!
For our burger shop example, our signature product will be a delicious pulled beef barbecue burger.
These are products that hook or reel in your customers. These products may have a great visual appeal or are trendy. These products sometimes contain a sense of urgency and are limited time offers (LTOs). Generally, you’ll only have 1-2 hook products.
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘sell the sizzle’? The general concept comes from when you’re seated at a restaurant ready to order. The waiter walks by with a sizzling dish of chicken fajitas for the next table over. And you hear the sizzle, smell it, and you can almost taste it with how much your mouth is watering. It looks so good, you may even order it for yourself now. Sell the sizzle!
For our burger shop example, our hook product will be a milkshake. This introduces a completely new product line to hook customers in, while still fitting with our food concept theme and meeting customers’ expectations. Have a burger and a shake! — used to reel or hook customers in. 3 Milkshake flavours: vanilla, chocolate, cookies and cream
These products are pretty self-explanatory. Since the seasons are always changing, we have certain flavours “in season” that we offer at different times of the year.
These flavours are generally associated with crops that would be in season at the time, or traditional holiday dishes, think Turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Or green-themed products in March for St. Patty's day; red-themed products in February for Valentine’s Day.
Seasonal products can also serve as a hook product at the same time. Since these products are seasonal, they are going away and coming back throughout the years. You can introduce seasonal items as a singular new product, a trifecta, or offer an entirely new seasonal menu!
Popular seasonal flavours
Winter: Gingerbread, Eggnog, Creme de Menthe, Peppermint, Hazelnut, Chestnuts.
Spring: Chocolate, Coffee, Caramel, Peanut Butter, Raspberry, Strawberry
Summer: Lemon, Blueberry, Pineapple, Birthday Cake, Cinnamon, Apple, Cookie dough
Fall: Pumpkin Spice, Cranberries, Butterscotch, Ginger, Maple, Chai
For our burger shop example, our seasonal products will tie into our milkshake product line.
Every season, we’ll offer different seasonal milkshake flavours. Throughout the year we’d have 3 core flavours of milkshakes available and 1 or 2 flavours rotating every season.
Summer: salted caramel, marshmallow
Fall: pumpkin spice
Winter: chocolate chip mint, hot chocolate milkshake
Spring: strawberry-banana, red velvet
Organizing & Building Our Sample Menu
After you’ve gathered all your menu products, you can name your products, use your restaurant branding, and your designing skills to build out your draft menu.
For our burger shop example, we’ve now gathered our main menu offerings.
Core products: 1. Single burger 2. Double Burger 3. Cheeseburger 4. Double cheeseburger 5. Vegan Burger
Signature products: 1. Pulled Beef BBQ burger
Hook products: Milkshakes
Seasonal products: Milkshake flavours for every season.
You may already have your food business concept in mind, but we’re going to need a name for this example burger shop. Let’s call it: Tony’s Burger Bistro. Now let’s make some more interesting product names and descriptions. You’ll want to do this for every product. You can name your products after places, people, times, or things. After you’re done naming everything. You can design your menu.
Single Burger → Classic Burger - our classic 100% beef burger with lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles.
Double Burger → Classic Double - Two 100% beef burger patties with lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles.
Cheeseburger → Cheeseburger - Our classic burger topped with melted American cheese.
Double Cheeseburger → double cheeseburger - Our classic double burger topped with 2 slices of melted American cheese.
Our signature burger → Tony’s BBQ Pulled Brisket Burger - Our house specialty featuring the star of the show – A 12 hour hickory-smoked, slow-cooked beef brisket shredded to perfection. Topped with our homemade BBQ sauce, and crispy fried onions.
Thank you for reading, I hope you found this blog useful. If you need any help at any stage of your food business journey please don't hesitate to reach out to a team member and they'd be happy to assist you. We at Food Business Machines offer expert insights, consulting, and commercial equipment for food businesses of any size.