The Menu: The Most Important Part of Any Foodservice Operation

Layout, design, and service are all important factors in any foodservice operation, whether it is a restaurant or hospital.  However, what is the glue that holds all of these factors together?  The menu!

An operation’s menu lists the food items that are available for selection by the customer and is often considered the most important internal control of the foodservice operation.  The menu is the primary determinant of the operation’s budget and provides a large piece of the operation’s identity.  Menus can be presented to the customer in many different fashions.  For example, there are spoken menus, where the menu is presented orally to the customer, or a la carte menus, in which food items are priced individually.  No matter the means in which the menu is presented to customers, it should be designed to reflect its items.  Elements such as font size and style, colour and brightness, spacing, and eye gaze motion are all important factors affecting the way the customer is introduced to the foods that are offered and is often one of the customer’s first experiences of the foodservice establishment.

This being said, there are a number of factors to consider when first planning a menu.  Balancing labor costs and food costs is always a challenge, and should be constantly evaluated and improved upon.  As well, the capabilities of staff should be considered.  It would be pretty difficult to offer five-star dining without having a professional chef on staff.  It sounds basic, but yes, these things can go unnoticed until it’s time to start cooking!  Knowing the target audience and priorities of your menu is also critical.  Are you serving to cancer patients who are often affected by smell and taste, or are you serving customers looking for the latest trends in food and cuisine?  Knowing your customer demographics will help to narrow in on which food items you would like to serve and will ultimately contribute to developing a successful menu.

In addition, customer satisfaction, nutrition, government regulations, and managerial decisions will also impact the menu planning.  Who is your target audience?  Does this group share sociocultural factors that may affect which foods you decide to serve?  Is the goal of the foodservice operation to provide items that are both nutritious and delicious, or is taste the main characteristic of the operation?  Are there any government regulations regarding food and food delivery that should be considered?  Has management set a budget, determined the type of service, and explored the availability of the foods they are considering?  These are all questions that should be answered prior to planning a menu.

When all of these factors have been considered, it’s time to start planning the menu!  Selecting dinner meats and entrees is likely a good place to begin, followed by lunch entrees, sides to go along with those entrees, appetizers, and desserts.  And when the menu is set, it’s time to evaluate!  Does your menu meet customer demands, government regulations, and managerial requirements?  If yes, then you’re all set!  If not, go back to the drawing board and find where you can rework the menu items.

The menu should be continually evaluated and evolved as it is the heart of any food service operation.  A previous post about gastronomy/gourmet dining (February 20, 2013) stated that all foodservice operations should strive for an enjoyable experience from preparation to service, a goal that can only be achieved through careful menu planning and acknowledging that yes, the menu is one of the most important parts of the foodservice operation.