A beginner’s guide to menu planning for a food business

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As a food business owner, you know that a well-planned menu can be the key to success. Not only does it help attract and retain customers, but it also helps optimize sales and profits. But where do you start when it comes to menu planning?

Looking for other steps to mastering the art of menu planning?

Here’s a link: Mastering the art of menu development and pricing for a food business

Menu planning is the process of creating and organizing the items that will be offered on your restaurant or food business’s menu. It involves deciding what dishes to include, setting prices, and organizing the menu in a way that is visually appealing and easy for customers to navigate.

The importance of menu planning cannot be overstated.

A well-planned menu can help attract and retain customers by offering a range of appealing and varied options. It can also help optimize sales and profits by ensuring that prices are fair to both the business and the customer, and by organizing the menu in a way that encourages customers to try new items.

Identifying your target audience

Before you start menu planning, it’s important to consider who your target audience is. This will help you decide what dishes to include on your menu and how to price them. Some factors to consider include demographics, preferences, and dietary restrictions.

For example, if your target audience is young professionals, you may want to include dishes that are quick and easy to eat, such as sandwiches or salads. If your target audience is families, you may want to include more kid-friendly options, such as chicken fingers or mac and cheese.

It’s also a good idea to research popular menu items in your area or industry. This can give you an idea of what customers are looking for and help you stand out from the competition.

List of Questions you should answer that will help you identify your target audience better:

  1. Who is the primary audience for my business?
  2. What are the demographics of my target audience (age, gender, income level, etc.)?
  3. What are the preferences and tastes of my target audience (e.g. type of cuisine, type of atmosphere)?
  4. Does my target audience have any dietary restrictions or preferences (e.g. vegetarian, gluten-free)?
  5. What are the common eating habits of my target audience (e.g. frequency of dining out, type of meal, preferred time of day)?
  6. What are the popular menu items in my area or industry, and how can I stand out from the competition?
  7. How can I tailor my menu to appeal to my target audience and meet their needs?
  8. Are there any specific cultural or societal factors that I should consider when designing my menu for my target audience?
  9. How can I gather feedback from my target audience to inform my menu planning decisions?
  10. Is my target audience primarily local or do they come from a wider geographic area?
  11. Does my target audience have any specific occasion or event in mind when dining at my business (e.g. date night, birthday celebration)?
  12. Does my target audience have any specific price range in mind when dining out?
  13. Does my target audience have any specific service or atmosphere preferences (e.g. sit-down dining, take-out, outdoor seating)?
  14. Are there any trends or new food items that are popular with my target audience?
  15. How can I use my menu to differentiate myself from competitors and attract my target audience?

Based on the above list of questions, you should have a better idea of who your target audience is and what menu items you should include. Once you’ve identified your target audience, it’s time to move to the next step.

Setting menu pricing

Setting menu prices can be a challenging task, but it’s an important part of menu planning. There are several factors to consider, such as food and labour costs, overhead expenses, and profit margins. It’s important to find a balance between pricing items fairly for the business and pricing them in a way that is appealing to customers.

One tip for setting prices is to use the “cost-plus” method, which involves calculating the cost of each menu item (including ingredients, labour, and overhead expenses) and adding a profit margin on top of that. This can help ensure that your prices are fair to both the business and the customer.

10-step process to get your menu pricing right:

  1. Calculate the cost of each menu item: Start by determining the cost of each ingredient in each menu item, including any necessary preparation or cooking time. Don’t forget to factor in any additional expenses, such as packaging or transport costs.
  2. Determine labour costs: Next, calculate the labour costs for each menu item, including the time it takes for chefs and other staff to prepare and serve the dish. Be sure to include any necessary training or supervision time as well.
  3. Calculate overhead costs: In addition to food and labour costs, you’ll need to factor in overhead expenses such as rent, utilities, and insurance. These costs can be calculated as a percentage of your total sales or as a flat fee.
  4. Determine your desired profit margin: Next, decide on the profit margin you’d like to achieve for each menu item. This will vary depending on your business goals and the overall financial health of your business.
  5. Use the “cost-plus” method: Once you’ve calculated the cost of each menu item and determined your desired profit margin, you can use the “cost-plus” method to set your prices. This involves adding your desired profit margin to the total cost of each menu item. For example, if the cost of a menu item is $10 and you want to achieve a 20% profit margin, you would set the price at $12 ($10 + $2 profit).
  6. Consider other pricing strategies: In addition to the “cost-plus” method, there are other pricing strategies that you may want to consider. For example, you may want to offer discounts or promotions to attract customers or encourage them to try new items. You could also consider offering tiered pricing options, such as smaller or larger portion sizes, to appeal to different budgets.
  7. Consider market conditions: It’s also important to consider market conditions when setting menu prices. For example, if there is a lot of competition in your area or if the cost of ingredients has gone up significantly, you may need to adjust your prices accordingly.
  8. Communicate with your customers: Finally, be sure to communicate your pricing to your customers. This could involve posting your menu prices on your website or in-store, or providing your customers with detailed descriptions of your menu items and any additional charges. This can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that your customers are aware of what they are paying for.
  9. Monitor sales and profitability: Finally, be sure to regularly monitor your sales and profitability to ensure that your menu pricing is working for your business. Keep track of which menu items are selling well and which are not, and make changes as needed to optimize your profit margin.
  10. Test and revise: It’s important to regularly review and revise your menu prices to ensure that they are fair to both the business and the customer. Consider conducting market research to gather feedback from customers and staff, and be open to making changes as needed to optimize sales and profitability.

Overall, menu pricing is an important aspect of menu planning that requires careful consideration and regular review. By following these steps, you can set prices that are fair to both your business and your customers, and optimize your sales and profits.

Choosing a menu format

There are several different menu formats to choose from, including a la carte, prix fixe, and daily specials. A la carte menus offer individual items for customers to choose from, while prix fixe menus offer a set of items at a fixed price. Daily specials are dishes that are only available for a limited time and are typically featured on a separate menu or board.

Each menu format has its pros and cons. A la carte menus offer flexibility and variety to customers, but they can be more expensive for the business to maintain. Prix fixe menus can be more efficient for the business, but they may not offer as much variety to customers. Daily specials can help attract customers and encourage them to try new items, but they require frequent updates and may not be suitable for all types of businesses.

Organizing the menu

Once you have decided on your menu items and format, it’s important to organize the menu in a way that is visually appealing and easy for customers to navigate. Consider factors such as balance, variety, and seasonality when organizing your menu.

For example, you may want to include a mix of appetizers, entrees, and desserts to provide a

balanced selection for customers. You should also consider offering a variety of options, such as vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes, to appeal to a wider audience.

It’s also important to consider the seasonality of your menu items. For example, you may want to offer lighter, fresher dishes in the summer months and heartier, warming dishes in the winter.

Visual design principles can also play a role in organizing your menu. Use headings, subheadings, and bullet points to break up the text and make the menu easier to read. You may also want to use images or colours to highlight certain items or categories.

Here is a sample food menu for a food business:

I. Appetizers

  • Fried Calamari
  • Bruschetta
  • Chicken Wings
  • Beef Satay
  • Queso Fundido

II. Soups and Salads

  • Caesar Salad
  • House Salad
  • Soup of the Day
  • Chilli
  • French Onion Soup

III. Sandwiches and Burgers

  • Cheeseburger
  • Veggie Burger
  • Grilled Chicken Sandwich
  • Club Sandwich
  • Reuben Sandwich

IV. Entrees

  • Spaghetti and Meatballs
  • Chicken Parmesan
  • Grilled Salmon
  • Beef Stroganoff
  • Vegetarian Stir Fry

V. Desserts

  • Cheesecake
  • Chocolate Cake
  • Apple Pie
  • Ice Cream Sundae
  • Key Lime Pie

VI. Beverages

  • Soft Drinks
  • Iced Tea
  • Lemonade
  • Coffee
  • Hot Tea

Testing and revising the menu

Menu planning is an ongoing process, and it’s important to regularly review and revise your menu to ensure that it is meeting the needs of both the business and the customer. One way to do this is to conduct market research, such as gathering feedback from customers and staff. This can help you identify what is working well and what may need to be changed.

Based on this feedback, you can make changes to your menu as needed. This might involve adding or removing items, changing prices, or adjusting the format. It’s important to be open to change and always be willing to make updates to optimize sales and customer satisfaction.


In summary, menu planning is a crucial aspect of running a successful food business. By identifying your target audience, setting prices, choosing a menu format, and organizing and revising your menu, you can create a menu that meets the needs of both the business and the customer. Don’t be afraid to try new things and be open to making changes as needed.

Bonus tips

  1. Use software tools to help with menu planning, such as menu cost calculators or menu design templates.
  2. Stay up to date with industry trends and consider incorporating new ingredients or dishes that are popular with customers.
  3. Offer specials or discounts to encourage customers to try new items or to reward loyal customers.
  4. Consider offering off-menu items for customers with specific dietary needs or preferences.
  5. Collaborate with other local businesses, such as farms or breweries, to source ingredients and create unique menu items.


Here’s a list of other menu development and pricing guides that you can read:

  1. A Beginner’s Guide to Menu planning for a Food Business
  2. A Beginner’s Guide to Recipe development for a Food Business
  3. A Beginner’s Guide to Food cost analysis for a Food Business
  4. A Beginner’s Guide to Pricing strategy for a Food Business
  5. A Beginner’s Guide to Customer demographics for a Food Business
  6. A Beginner’s Guide to Seasonality for a Food Business

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