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Key Steps to Profitable Menus

May 14, 2021

RTS Partner Chef Becky Foulk says the pandemic has taught us now is the time to evaluate your menu. But first you’ll need a goal. Here’s how to set one to end up with a profitable menu that’s easy to execute and attractive to customers.

Strategy is key to creating a menu that features dishes customers enjoy, needs minimal labor to execute and is profitable. It typically takes a team — culinary, training, marketing, operations, purchasing, IT, and finance — to do that. So be ready to involve team members when appropriate, keeping in mind that achieving your goal doesn’t mean being all things to all people.

No matter what type of menu changes you intend to make, there are three strategic steps you need to take before designing new dishes.   

Product review. Review current menu items on the basis of taste, presentation, ease of execution, and consistency. Be brutally honest: Ask customers what they think and check out online reviews. Note which items are signature to your concept; similar to competition; perceived as healthy options (gluten free/vegan/vegetarian); and portable (ToGo offerings). Review key ingredients in each dish, considering procurement challenges now and possible future price increases.

Trends/Competitive Research. Use the internet to check out menu offerings, menu design and pricing at rival restaurants. Keep an idea folder that includes menus, pictures, recipes or ingredients found on the internet or during your travels. Visit your key competition, reviewing dining in and delivery/curbside pickup. Remember what is new in fine-dining trickles down to casual and quick casual in a couple years. Talk to your vendors. They are a great source to keep abreast of the industry trends, gather samples and even partner in product creation where possible.

Sales and Profitability. Many factors that go into evaluating sales and profitability. Make sure you consider each one below.

  • Gather sales for each menu daily and weekly: dine-in and to-go.
  • Calculate the costs and gross profit of each plate. Include packaging for to-go items.
  • Consider complexity: How easy is the item to execute  the equipment used in preparation and prep.

Keep in mind that menu items that seem profitable may not be when adding in the steps to execute on the line, prep, and waste. Compare the cost of dishes with minimal prep to those with maximum prep to calculate profitability; compare, too, the preparation of high price dishes with low price dishes and calculate which are more profitable. The goal is to achieve a balance of both while adding signature touches to make your menu special without hindering operational flow or profitability.    

Finally, review your findings and make necessary changes.

  • Look for blaring menu gaps that could hinder reaching your target customers.
  • Adjust recipes or presentations that affect flavor, profitability, execution, or portability.
  • Eliminate or rework operationally challenged items that cause line chaos or slowdowns.
  • Ensure your menu is balanced operationally with your equipment and labor costs.
  • Ease procurement challenges, including eliminating single use ingredients where possible.
  • Check again individual item cost, packaging cost and ease of execution to ensure profitability    
  • Consider the effect any menu changes have on other sales channels (catering, delivery, retail).


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