Now Serving: The Art of the Menu (Second of a Series)

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Monday, July 28, 2014

CREATING the menu for food service operations must be tailored based on target market, trends, analysis of historical and trend data, demographics, income, family structure education level, ethnic origins, average spending habits, capacities, behavior, sources of goods and raw materials and several other factors. Competition analysis is a major consideration as well in the assessment of the internal and external environment. Comparative analysis of menus and prices enables the menu planner to determine areas for menu niches (unique aspects) or specialization to draw target market or specific demographics or segments. Most experienced menu planners prepare a competition matrix by considering competitor restaurants in terms of price, range, ethnic preferences, type of cuisine being offered, and other amenities.

The role of the menu in marketing strategy cannot be understated. A well-crafted menu opens the guest to the entire dining experience by providing a preview of the culinary adventure that lies ahead. Since the dining experience is enhanced by what guests see, hear, touch, taste and smell, the composition and presentation of the menu must represent the style, cuisine, service, and overall theme of the restaurant.

The use of the appropriate, descriptive words also stimulate senses. Great menus should depict dishes in details that pique curiosity and leave much for the imagination without the calories. Guests have distinct food preferences or avoid several food types because of its cultural and religious influences. Ensuring that the menus are adapted to such cultural and religious sensitivities and preference is very important in positioning your restaurant. Trends towards vegetarianism and ethnic foods as well as lower fat menus with an emphasis on freshness or organic foods are distinguished from fads that tend to last only a short time. Trends are tied to other lifestyle changes and are reflected in trends in other expenditures such as grocery items, sportswear, books, travel, etc. While culture and religion play an important role in menu planning, age demographics predominate the nutritional needs as well as food preferences of children, adolescents, young adults, adults and seniors and should be considered by the menu planner.


Children's menus tend to follow a standard format in many restaurants; hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza and chicken nuggets, all with "fries" and "pop".
These tend to be familiar and popular items for children as well as ones that are quickly prepared. However, the monotony of these high fat menu items may not appeal to the parents of the children, particularly those who patronize restaurants regularly or frequently on vacations. The wise menu planner will incorporate a variety of nutritious menu items along with the "old favorites" for children.

In this age of fast-paced living and health-consciousness, adults will continue to seek innovative dishes that are reasonably priced, are bundled with touches of culinary adventure as well as promote healthy eating
An aging population also means that menu planners must be aware of the special diets for such chronic diseases as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and cancer. Seniors tend to seek familiar foods that they can easily chew and digest. Today's adults are tomorrow's seniors, so menu planners must always be monitoring the needs and trends of their target markets (PCA).

Requisites For Menu Composition

The menu must reflect the goals or overall purpose of the restaurant. It should be the result of its well defined goals in terms of menu mix, prices, service styles, presentation and décor.
In menu composition, the owner or the chef must consider the following important requisites:

A. Ingredient Availability. Careful menu planners should avoid using too many seasonal items or hard to get items that may be part of ethnic menu items. Otherwise the menu becomes difficult to deliver to customers, resulting in disappointment, and is potentially expensive for the organization, due to substitutions.

B. Cross Utilization of Ingredients. Making the best use of raw ingredients for multiple menu items, will control the numbers of items in inventory and the potential for waste and spoilage.

C. Costs of Products and Production. Prices of menu items should be carefully studied based on target market and market segment. In turn, costs to prepare and serve menu items are dependent on these prices and demand (revenue) as well as desired profit margins. It is important to note however, that menu decisions relating to profitability should be made on the overall menu mix rather than the food and labor costs for individual menu items.

D. Equipment Availability and Capacities. Menu planners must ensure that the restaurant has the necessary equipment and that the equipment and work stations have the capacities for the variety and/or volumes of menu items. This also illustrates the relationship between determining customer demand for particular menu items and the limitations of the organization.

E. Production Flow. Production should flow from receiving through to service without backtracking to ensure time efficiency and product safety (no cross contamination of finished items with raw ingredients or equipment).

F. Staff Skills and Capacities. This refers to the abilities of the production, service and management staff to produce the complexities and volumes dictated by a menu. Remember that the written menu is a preview that the served meal must live up to! A number of hotel and restaurant kitchens now purchase outsourced or ready to serve menu items to reduce labor costs and to ensure a standard quality product. Without more thoughtful menu planning to find a compromise between labor costs and quality menu items, we risk a decline in the numbers of skilled chefs.

Tips on Menu Preparation

Professional chefs adopt the following strategies in menu planning and development, which may guide you as follows (PCA):

• Effective presentation requires correct presentation of categories, variety, descriptive terminology, restrictions and layout style.
• Consider menu variety and balance or menu aesthetics
• Use of clear descriptive terminology
• Use tasteful and well-designed menu cover, layout and stylish printing styles.

"Categories refer to the groupings of items such as appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, side dishes, sandwiches, desserts and beverages. The number of categories reflect the style of service, the complexity of the menu and price ranges. The categories selected for the menu also represent the menu pattern or outline for the menu."

"Variety and balance or menu aesthetics refers to the choices within the categories as well as plate or meal composition. Menu categories or compositions that offer food of similar temperature, cooking method (all fried for example), texture, shape, size or colour will not be appealing. Creativity and an ability to visualize what the actual food/meal presentation will look and taste like should guide the skilled menu planner in developing an appealing menu."

“Descriptive terminology refers to the word pictures created by the menu item names and descriptions. Do not use highly technical terms or jargons that the average diner will not understand. Related to the use of descriptive terminology is accuracy or truth in menu writing. With the increase in the numbers of diners with allergies, dietary requirements and other sensitivities, accuracy in reporting ingredients has become paramount in menu composition and presentation.”

As far as menu presentation is concerned, always make sure that what is visually presented in the menu is consistent with the actual plate presentation. Style and Visual appeal is important in restaurant promotions, but it is essential that we can deliver what has been advertised. To enhance merchandising, menu planners should consider recommending wine and beverage choices, with entrees and desserts on the menu or identifying types of entrees that particular wines complement on the wine list.

“Lettering and artwork should not detract from the menu content. The lighting and visual acuity of your customers should guide you in the style and size of type. Artwork placed at the focal point of the menu can detract from the goal of the printed menu - to market and sell menu items. (PCA)

Tips On Menu Pricing

Pricing menus can be based on rational and/or psychological methods, while considering influences of targeted market groups and internal / external influences and competition matrix.

The main objectives in pricing the menu are to meet financial goals, positively influence value perceptions and to increase sales and market share. Choose an effective pricing strategy that is consistent with targeted margins and food and beverage costs vis-à-vis with the law of supply and demand as well as competition.

More on menu analysis and menu engineering next week!

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on July 29, 2014.


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