Heads-up! If you understand this article but still need convincing that extensive planning is critical to designing a menu that sends dishes flying out of your kitchen, then an experiment would convince you 100%. That said, what is the importance of restaurant menu planning?
Answering this question to the satisfaction of every restaurateur requires a long and in-depth discussion that touches all aspects of menu planning. This is the discussion! Stick around to find out more.
Before proceeding, we’d like to mention that you can design a digital menu for your food business using our various templates on Menuzen, which are all free of charge, to save you money. That said, let’s go back to our topic.
What Is Menu Planning?
It is expected that you have any, even if small, ideas of what menu planning is—especially if you’re in the food services business—because it’s something you most likely already do. Notwithstanding, we’ll give you our official definition.
“Menu planning for restaurants is the process of deciding the regular and special dishes of a restaurant, ingredients for each dish, cuisine rotation cycle, and establishing supply sources, among other restaurant processes, to guide towards designing the most profitable menu.”
The Importance of Menu Planning Explained (Top 12 Benefits)
Keep reading as we outline the 12 different ways menu planning benefits your food business.
1. Easy familiarity with dishes.
What is the importance of menu planning with regard to staff efficiency?
Menu planning will help you establish the types of cuisines your restaurant will offer. We're not just talking about planning your meals for the week, we're talking about the long term. The restaurant staff will master these cuisines since they are your restaurant’s staple food and specials.
If you offer items without following a set menu plan, it can be confusing to some staff — and we know that a knowledgeable staff is critical to the prosperity of any restaurant.
It would be costly and even embarrassing if a customer were to request a dish and an employee tells them it’s unavailable when all the ingredients are sitting in the kitchen, ready for cooking and serving. These errors are more likely if you simply introduce and retire items on the menu without thorough planning. For example, what you cooked the past month is no longer among your dishes today.
Poor menu planning leads to customer displeasure.
Unless every staff member consistently wises up to all the dishes of the day, there’ll always be this atmosphere of uncertainty surrounding some of them. Reflecting on the above example, the opposite situation can also happen. Here’s how.
A customer can inquire about one unavailable dish but be told that the food is available, only to make them feel at rest. Fast-forward to moments later; they receive the disappointing news from an apologetic staff that their order can’t be fulfilled. This bitter customer experience alone underscores the importance of menu planning.
We know that your customers may be able to see from the menu what’s available and what’s not. Still, you’re bound to disappoint some when you remove and add items to the menu on a whim.
A customer who previously enjoyed one of your dishes would be surprised and disappointed to find it missing from the menu. While the dish might still be available on the menu, it may be lost among other dishes and difficult to locate due to your arbitrary additions.
You can still expand your menu, regardless.
We aren’t discouraging menu expansion but do so according to plan. This ensures items come and go based on their contribution to your business, and your business doesn’t suffer from any customer’s disappointment.
Adding a dish to your menu correctly requires a bit of work. This is because you must consider the competition, your customers, costs, margins, etc., before offering a new recipe. Even your chefs can fumble over preparing certain dishes you introduced without much thought save that you learned that another restaurant is selling them off rapidly.
If you don’t plan your menu, temptations to add new dishes randomly may overpower you since you haven’t set any fixed limit to your offers. The ability to overcome these temptations is a primary importance of menu planning. When you create digital menus on Menuzen, you have the luxury of managing and editing your offers with utmost ease and on the go.
It is important to note that there are also restaurants that use constant changes of menu's as their USP (unique selling point). However, these restaurants still reap the same benefits of meal planning as any other. A monthly or weekly menu of specials must be planned to combat inefficiency.
2. Timely service delivery.
Let’s define a few terms before we proceed.
- Pre-process wait: The time-lapse before it’s a customer’s turn to make an order.
- In-process wait: The time it takes to fulfil a customer’s orders, such as preparing and serving dishes.
- Post-process wait: The delay in delivering the bill to the customer.
Your customers will likely dislike wait times, even if they last just a few minutes. However, customer opposition to these wait times varies in intensity depending on the dining stage.
For example, a hungry customer would hate to wait two minutes before being attended to but could tolerate a five-minute delay in serving the bill (after the meal, of course). Similarly, an over-committed customer would strongly dislike delays in delivering the bill.
To reduce pre-process wait times, we suggest you transition to a digital menu, enabling customers to make their orders online (via your website) even before arriving at your restaurant.
Some experiments on delays.
Two experimental studies showed that restaurant pre-process wait times feel longer than in-process waits for customers.
So, what is the importance of menu planning as regards wait times?
Quite a number of them.
First, the studies above clearly showed that customers dislike in-process wait times. They want orders executed as quickly as possible in the kitchen. However, how can you ensure an efficient kitchen when your menu isn’t planned beforehand?
Poor menu planning derails efficiency.
A poorly planned menu is a recipe for kitchen inefficiency.
Not planning the menu would mean that items enter and leave your kitchen store without the chef and cooks properly familiarising themselves with those dishes. Hence, preparing the new dishes to be delicious would pose a more significant challenge since the cook has to deal with a seemingly never-ending variety of new dishes.
The reason for the increased challenge is that proper menu planning involves running a test kitchen, where your cooks plate out the meals for other staff to taste. Before then, cooks have already practised preparing the dishes repeatedly until total mastery — a requirement for efficiency.
However, imagine a situation where they have to learn a new dish every few days or weeks because you’re randomly removing and adding items to the menu. This can even be frustrating for the chef. They’ve spent time learning and perfecting a particular dish, only for you to abruptly retire it and introduce a new one they’re probably unfamiliar with.
3. Waste minimisation.
Menu planning allows near-accurate prediction of the quantities of ingredients or food to stock up based on your dining capacity. Without adequate menu planning, you’re prone to making mistakes while stocking up on supplies, which can lead to losses due to food waste.
For example, some restaurateurs, when they introduce a dish and begin to make early sales, would hurry to order more food supplies, spending money and hoping to sell as much as possible. They do this only to discover their kitchen and dining capacity isn’t capable of storing and selling out the additional supplies early enough for some items not to start wasting away or expiring. This is one of the main reasons menu planning is essential.
How poor planning causes food waste.
Over-purchasing can happen when a supplier tempts you with great discounts for bulk purchases. In turn, you’re more likely to succumb if you don’t plan your menu before ordering. Seeing that many customers like a particular food, you can misestimate the quantity likely to be sold within a set time frame.
Menu planning helps minimise or reduce food waste by guiding your procurement decisions. Sometimes, your hotel/restaurant might have enough cooks and facilities to handle any number of orders, but the customers for a particular dish might be scanty.
Menu planning will help shield you from food waste that results from low demand since you’d integrate some market data in the menu planning process. For emphasis, menu planning isn’t complete if it doesn’t account for market realities.
4. Ingredient variety minimisation.
What is the importance of menu planning in the catering business in regard to ingredient variety?
Menu planning helps you maximise the use of each ingredient.
If you plan your menu carefully, you’ll pinpoint every dish for which a particular ingredient works. Also, this will enable you to use the least variety of ingredients possible since some will likely cut across different cuisines.
Not only does this help your budget, margins, and competitive advantage, but it also uses less storage space.
Establish sources for ingredients with menu planning.
Do you often find yourself in a last-minute scramble for ingredients?
If so, it’s either you don’t plan menus at all, or your plan has a loose end. Either way, the chain reaction of last-minute situations usually culminates in your customers receiving a bad experience.
Menu planning also helps you develop a list of core ingredients and identify their best suppliers. Your dishes are probably just a mix of ingredients, major and minor — and these ingredients have their periods of scarcity.
Additionally, suppliers would have different prices, qualities, delivery times, etc. You should decide on the best suppliers to increase your competitive advantage and profit margin.
By establishing reliable supply chains through menu planning, you won’t be getting into the emergency trap (cited above) often. That said, establishing supply chains is a significant importance of menu planning.
5. Storage space optimisation.
Storage space better serves its purpose when you plan menus in advance.
Think about it!
Your restaurant most likely has limited space for stacking supplies. Planning your menu would ensure you order only what your stores can accommodate.
This is because you’ve already designed the dishes and know their ingredients. With data on the estimated number of customers you expect to serve within a defined period, you’d know how many supplies to send to your store.
Poor planning leads to poor storage.
If you add and remove items at will from your menu, the disadvantage will also manifest in storage. This is because the ingredients for those other dishes are still in storage, and you’re bringing in new ones before the previous ingredients are depleted. Unless you have unlimited storage space, a time will come when you’ll hit a limit.
Might be hard to find, but an overflowing storage cupboard might work? Again, Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen nightmares comes to mind.
If you don’t plan your menu, you’re likely to overlook a vital dish you can’t afford to exclude. Moreover, if you have been buying supplies for other dishes that are less profitable or less popular than the important dish you just recalled or learned about, carving out a storage location for its ingredients may present a great inconvenience.
In conclusion, the importance of menu planning as regards storing supplies is enough reason to devote substantial time to it.
6. Increased purchasing efficiency.
Menu planning helps avoid any last-minute rush for ingredients and cooking resources. Its advantage in this sense parallels the benefit of menu planning for home cooking.
If you don’t take the time to account for all components of a dish, you’ll be more likely to forget a crucial item without which the dish would be incomplete. This often happens among home cooks. Surprisingly, it also happens with restaurants, especially those who don’t plan their menu well before approaching suppliers, the grocery store or local markets.
Another aspect where menu planning increases purchasing efficiency is in knowing the varieties and quantities of ingredients to buy. We talked about food items that may have a common use among several cuisines. Menu design not only helps you identify these ingredients but also how much of each ingredient you need to buy.
7. Restaurant branding.
What is the importance of menu planning when it comes to restaurant branding?
A staggering 89% of small business leaders in the hospitality industry say branding is a critical factor in their success, while 87% claim it helps bring in new clients.
The first and most powerful avenue to establish your restaurant brand before customers is your menu. Your menu is part of what explains who you are and what to expect from you.
Several other factors contribute to restaurant branding, but your menu is one of the top ones. For example, depending on your location and target customers, you can decide whether your restaurant would provide high-end dishes or cheaper options suited to students, construction site workers, etc. Ultimately, one should be able to understand from your menu, on their first visit, the type of restaurant you are.
How menu planning brands your restaurant.
Menu planning helps brand your restaurant, considering that you decide the types of dishes to offer in your menu.
It would be unusual for a seasoned restaurateur or food service provider to introduce the prices of a five-star hotel to a market dominated by labourers of a construction site or inhabitants of a suburban, rural, or student community.
Those who can afford those prices would be fewer by a large margin than if you had situated your business in a location surrounded by a more wealthy demographic. In that case, one look at the menu would tell a typical student that this isn’t their lunch spot.
8. Accurate prediction of staffing needs.
How do we explain the importance of menu planning when it comes to staffing a restaurant?
Menu planning shows you the level of manpower needed to run your restaurant efficiently. Since menu planning clarifies everything about your staple dishes, specials, ingredients, quantities, and even the number of customers you’ll serve a day, it’s easy to reach a reasonable estimate of the required workforce.
If you don’t plan your menu, avoiding the mistake of over- or under-staffing would be difficult. This is because you can’t foresee the amount of work your restaurant would do for customers.
Suppose you did your market research well, especially on every dish you offer. In that case, you should have a realistic estimate of the number of customers likely to visit your restaurant and possibly the kind of food they’ll order. This realistic estimate helps you plan the menu and determine the number of cooks and waiting staff you need.
Market data and staffing.
Market research data won’t necessarily guide your staffing decision directly. Even if you have a reasonably close estimate of how many customers your restaurant would garner, it’s only when you decide to serve that full range of customers that market intel would play a direct role in determining manpower. Moreover, you need to figure out the type of recipe, prep time, equipment, etc., to decide your staffing.
While planning your meals, you can choose to cater for fewer customers than your investigation forecasts or more customers by stepping up your marketing efforts. You ought to plan your staffing the same way other organisations plan theirs; otherwise, you’d be wasting money on redundant staff without realising it. At this point, it’s clear that adequate staffing is one of the top importance of menu planning.
9. Easier pricing.
When planning a menu, you’ll not only decide the types of dishes to offer but also how to prepare them. Since you’re building this plan on solid market data, you should already know who will buy those dishes and how much they can afford to pay.
As we explained in our guide on how to cost a menu, only when you know a cuisine’s prospective customers would you be able to set the most realistic and profitable price. Menu planning also requires this in-depth knowledge of prospective customers. Therefore, you shouldn’t decide on your restaurant’s primary cuisines without extensive menu planning.
The risk of adding expensive cuisines.
Adding and removing dishes randomly can invite losses since you’re likely to introduce a relatively cost-intensive cuisine, and your customers might not be willing to pay the price you set. This mistake with your menu can easily occur when items land on your menu purely from your imagination or guesswork.
So, in summary, what’s the importance of menu planning in costing your menu?
Its primary importance is that it guides you on adding items to your menu that will likely earn you the most revenue and profit.
10. Streamlined success factors.
Every seasoned restaurateur knows that different factors work harmoniously to make a restaurant successful. From competitive analysis to choosing suppliers, pricing models, customer profiling, and social media marketing—among several other operations—all need to support one another to move your business forward.
The effect of a failed operation in any of these factors can reverberate throughout your restaurant’s ecosystem, with potentially disastrous results. Menu planning can spare you such a fate by harmonising processes with interdependent chances of success.
For example, the relationship between menu planning and market research is one where one hand washes the other.
On the one hand, market research would inform your understanding of potentially profitable dishes. On the other hand, menu planning will give your market research a focus. Thus, instead of researching different dishes, it directs your research towards the cuisines you’re looking to offer.
11. Competitive advantage.
What is the importance of menu planning in competitive analysis?
You won’t plan your menu in a vacuum because, whether you like it or not, external and uncontrollable forces will interfere with your menu plans. You’re likely to have competitors, whether direct or indirect.
For one, the ingredients of your preferred cuisines must be available on the markets. Also, the price sensitivity of prospective customers is among the factors limiting your menu plans.
Since menu planning hinges on these market factors, you’re forced to study the competitive landscape in detail, which might lead to discovering some market gaps that you can exploit.
Ultimately, menu planning gives you a competitive advantage in two ways. First, it allows for a careful selection of dishes and operations. Secondly, it forces you to obtain market intel.
12. Preparation for trends.
Menu planning plays a role in protecting your restaurant from trend-related shocks. Imagine that a new “must-have” trending dish is adopted late in your restaurant when many of your customers sought that dish earlier. This can lead to the permanent loss of some customers.
Menu planning accounts for seasonal changes and future trends. In other words, you’ll be ready with the equipment to prepare future trending dishes and would have secured the supply chains of their ingredients and trained your cooks, among others. That way, you can start selling those dishes when they appear on the scene.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the importance of menu planning in the catering business?
No catering event would proceed smoothly without a well-thought-out menu that most or all attendees would welcome. All professional catering services should plan their menus according to the different dietary requirements of their guests since attendees would likely subscribe to different diets and be allergic to certain ingredients. Menu planning helps you meet the dietary restrictions and food choices of all attendees if you do it correctly while setting the right event atmosphere and making it enjoyable for all guests.
What is the importance of a menu?
Without the menu in today’s restaurant industry, every food business that offers a diverse range of cuisines will eventually be crippled to a halt unless all or most of its customers know the cuisines offhand.
Summarily, a menu offers the following benefits:
- Increased restaurant sales.
- Simplified ordering process.
- Easier and more efficient serving.
What are the four purposes for planning menus?
There are more than four purposes for planning menus. We’ve discussed a dozen of them in this guide.
In summary, the purposes for planning menus include:
- Harmonising restaurant processes.
- Establishing supply chains.
- Optimising the use of storage space.
- Increased purchased efficiency.
“What is the importance of menu planning in the restaurant business?”
Or rather, “what are the uses of menu planning for restaurants?” considering that there are several advantages that menu planning avails of your restaurant.
We’ve discussed a dozen such advantages, but there are possibly more that you’ll discover intuitively as you practise menu planning.
You should always remember that proper menu planning pays most of the time, and neglecting it could result in preventable regret. After implementing your menu plans, you need to regularly revisit the progress of each dish and modify your plans accordingly.
We’re rounding off with another reminder to check out Menuzen’s free digital menu template catalogue whenever you want to design a menu for any food business. Save time creating your website with the Menuzen templates.You’re almost sure to find designs for all types of menu that’ll fit your restaurant like a glove.