Creating a good menu takes more than just offering exciting new dishes for your guests. By understanding the following key factors, you can create a menu that satisfies both your guests, as well as your profit margins.
“Study the market. Find out what they like to eat, what competitors are offering and for how much … and if you should lower your prices to compete.” – Chef Robin Ho (Singapore)
Knowing your market gives you insights into the different diners and what they like, allowing you to plan a menu they will love. When planning a menu around your guests’ preferences, consider the following:
Who they are
Different diners look for different things when they eat out. Learn about the different kinds of diners and plan your menu based on their preferences and spending power.
Why they eat out
More customers are eating out due to busier lifestyles, with many seeking quick and convenient dining options. Offer tasty food items on your menu that can be served quickly to attract busy diners.
When they eat out
Different customers eat out for different reasons – whether it’s celebrations, business lunches, romantic dinners, family gatherings or late night snacks. Provide enough variety to ensure your guests will find something for any occasion.
What they eat
Diners in Southeast Asia may eat up to five meals a day. Having separate sections on your menu offering lunch sets, or even creating a special menu for dinner will offer guests the right food at the right time.
Your ability to deliver
“With the easy accessibility of modern ingredients, you don’t have to create certain things from scratch. This helps to maintain the consistent quality of the meal while reducing cost in terms of time and ingredients you would need to make them from scratch.” – Chef Richmond Lim (Malaysia)
A menu that offers an incredible range of dishes is useless if your kitchen cannot deliver on what’s promised. When choosing what foods to offer, consider your kitchen size and equipment, the skills and efficiency of your staff and your food budget.
Be sure to prepare for peak hours – proper planning and the convenience of modern ingredients such as bouillons and stock bases help maintain quality while saving time.
Availability of ingredients
Good ingredients are at the heart of every dish. Nurturing good relations with a reliable supplier will ensure that you always enjoy a stable supply of fresh, quality ingredients. Make friends with them and they may even give you the best of every harvest.
It’s also a good idea to base your main menu items and favourites on ingredients that are available year-round. On the other hand, you can use seasonal ingredients to create special dishes for your guests.
Food characteristics and combinations
By understanding the characteristics of different foods and how they combine, you can offer unique and delightful dishes on your menu. Here are a few ideas to help you create new and exciting combinations.
Appearance and texture
Bring out the promise of freshness and flavour with colours. Use ingredients of various shapes, sizes and textures to create new layers of depth and appeal to your dishes.
The five basic tastes are sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (“savouriness”). Explore different combinations and intensities to create interesting and unique dishes.
Try combining food with varying serving temperatures to add an interesting twist to familiar dishes. This will appeal especially to Adventurous Diners.
The most popular cooking methods in Southeast Asia are wok-frying, deep-frying, grilling, simmering and braising. Try combining them to create a dish with more complex flavours and textures.
Proper costing of your menu items creates a balance between the quality and cost of your food and makes your establishment more profitable.
Start by creating a target cost (usually 30 - 32% of food selling price). Meeting this figure helps manage your menu prices and provides food your customers are willing to pay for. Training your staff to be cost conscious also helps to keep your kitchen more cost effective.