How to build strong profits into your menu

When making a menu there's no reason why creativity and profit can't go hand in hand.
When making a menu there's no reason why creativity and profit can't go hand in hand.

The menu is the most important marketing tool for any restaurant or café, and at the same time it is the vehicle for the chef to express his creativity and culinary skill.

While the items on the card should represent the best food the house can produce, the practical reality is that the profitability of the menu must be the first and foremost consideration.

There are four ways every chef can build a strong profit margin into the menu without completely discarding those items that express the creative element of the kitchen. 

Set realistic menu prices

Traditional rule of thumb thinking on setting menu prices is that tripling the cost of ingredients will generally produce a profit but this does not go far enough to maximising the potential for profitability. Some dishes will naturally be inexpensive to produce, while the ingredients for others will be more than 33 per cent of the practical top-end price for the menu. The key to generating good profits is to offset the cost of the more costly items with those that are cheaper to produce to ensure a good margin across the entire list. 

Daily specials and seasonal produce advantages

There are significant savings in buying produce that is on special and including a small list of daily specials is a practical way to take advantage of this. Similarly, seasonal produce, which may only be available for a short time and often is very affordably priced, is an excellent way to increase the profit margin of dishes. The key to leveraging this potential is to keep in touch with prices in order to continually maintain a good profit margin on those short-term menu additions. 

Spotlight signature dishes

The signature dishes represent the heart and soul of the house and they should also be the most popular items on the card. This means that the kitchen should be ordering greater quantities of the necessary ingredients and producing them in larger batches. Suppliers will usually offer a better bulk price for their products while streamlining the larger production process to maximise the efficiency of their production can increase profit margins on high turnover dishes considerably. The key to using signature dishes is to continually monitor the cost of the ingredients, sales volumes and production times to ensure that the percentages remain as low as possible. 

User-friendly menu design

Even the best dishes won't sell if the menu is hard to read. The layout of the card is vital to maximising the sales of the most profitable items. It goes without saying that the menu must be clearly formatted, but it is also important to place the dishes the kitchen wants to see the highest turnover for in the most prominent position on the list. Offering main course sizes for popular entrée dishes is another effective way to add value to plates.

As much thought should go into the overall design of the menu as is applied to developing every dish on it. Just taking the time to keep track of the costs and to take advantage of special offers can improve the profit margin of almost any menu significantly and in a very short time.