The Domino Effect of Menu Planning

The menu has such hidden power that it can make or break a restaurant/pub/cafe business. It can be the reason why there is chaos in the kitchen, out of control labour costs and poor service. It has the power to generate profit destroying waste, increase utility bills exponentially and have owners or managers at the end of their tether trying to analyse why the business just isn’t making money. Significant time and effort is needed to perfect a menu and make it work for the business rather than the other way around.

Take for example a list of starters from a mid market restaurant evening menu. Seventy seats, table service, with cooking method.

Seasonal Soup of the day with homemade brown bread €5.00 – soup kettle

Seafood Chowder with homemade brown bread €6.50 – from the stove to order , base prepped.

Crispy Duck Spring Rolls with house plum sauce € 8.95 – fryer to order, sauce prepped.

Fresh Dublin Bay Prawn Cocktail – classic Marie Rose Sauce, butterhead lettuce & classic Marie Rose Sauce €10.50 prepped in advance to sauce point

Tempura Prawns with soy sauce dip €10.50 -deep fryer to order

Warm St.Tola Goats Cheese with roasted beetroot, seasonal leaves and candied walnuts €9.50 – cooked to order in oven, sides prepped

Calamari – with chilli aoili and cucumber pickle €9.50 – deep fryer to order, sides prepped.

Slow cooked Ribs – homemade fiery sauce and house slaw €€9.50

Fiery Chicken Wings with Zinging Buffalo Sauce, Asian slaw €8.95 –deep fryer, sauce made


  1. The cheapest option is at the top of the list. The next cheapest option is at the bottom. These are the two areas where the eye is drawn on looking at a menu i.e. items that do not bring in high cash returns, where higher cash margin items such as the prawn cocktail is buried in the middle of the list.
  2. There are nine choices which is three too many. Taking away one of the hot prawn dishes and two of the deep fried options will take the pressure off the kitchen and take nothing away from the menu.
  3. Of the nine dishes, four are deep fried, two fish and one chicken – this will put big pressure on fryers – of which there must be two as there is a fish and meat starter. This will also slow down service.
  4. There is almost no crossover of sides with any of the dishes, meaning heavy labour for prep, space for storing all those individual prep items at the service point and use of multiple ingredients some of which may be wasted if dishes are not sold.
  5. Of the nine dishes, only one is cold. Having so many hot dishes puts huge pressure on the cooking line, space at the pass and keeping the food warm while waiting for service staff.
  6. Other than soup, only one dish is slow cooked, ready to serve from the oven.


  1. We scan menus and apparently devote just 109 seconds to doing so. Too much choice addles and annoys customers. Customers also tend to revert to what they know when faced with overwhelming lists of possibilities. Five to six starters works well where the choice is considered and based on what customers like.
  2. Carry out a monthly sales analysis to determine best and worst sellers. Cull.
  3. Analyse the effect the menu is having on all aspects of your operation from ingredient costs, waste, prep time, equipment needed as a result of the menu, space needed, pressure on cooking line at full tilt and number of touches to the plate.
  4. Ensure that every element of each dish that is retained on the menu is of the best quality, relevant to the dish and that some of the items can be used across dishes.
  5. Try to have at least half of the starter options cold so that these can be almost fully prepped in advance.
  6. Resist the temptation to go ‘bananas’ with specials. This can also add untold pressure to the kitchen and it needs to be proven that the special will earn it’s keep. Should it be a really top quality seasonal food, have one special and really ‘sell’ it as it will be at it’s premium best. For example, wild mushrooms are flooding the countryside at the moment, they have exquisite flavours and are almost free. They should be featuring strongly on menus.
  7. Aim for as many high margin, low input items as is possible.
  8. Watch out for too many elements in a dish leading to extra prepping time- labour costs, extra plating time- service slower and extra equipment needs.
  9. When planning the menu, always involve chefs and front of house team as every decision made on the menu has a domino effect of kitchen and front of house operations.
  10. Keep asking these questions a) is this menu relevant to my customers. b) am I making the best use of seasonal and local foods? C) have I taken into account the knock on effects of each menu dish on operations, front and back of house? d) When the restaurant is at full tilt, will this menu put intolerable pressure on the kitchen? e) is this menu going to make us money?

Good menu planning holds the key to a smooth, efficient, money making business.