How to develop a successful restaurant menu
5 min read
It’s obvious that a restaurant’s menu is an integral part of its success, but creating an attractive menu that works for you and your clientele is an intricate process that requires a lot of consideration. These are some of the considerations I make when developing a new menu.
#1 Deciding what ingredients to use
At my restaurants, we change our menus every three months. I start planning for a menu change about six weeks in advance and the first step to this is working out what produce is coming into season and what is going out. Cooking with seasonal produce is important to me because when fruit and veggies are in their prime, they’re more flavourful, nutritious, cheaper to buy and have less of an impact on the environment.
As a chef I have a pretty good idea of when produce is in season, but I need to chat to our suppliers to find out what exactly they have available. I always get my ingredients first and think of what dishes I could create second. There’s a lot of citrus in winter so we’ll come up with creative ways to make the most of that, such as the citrus salsa served alongside roast spatchcock at Luke’s Kitchen.
I have relationships with small growers who know that we love to use unique ingredients at our restaurants, so if they have something unusual pop up they’ll always send it to us. For example, we currently have a vegetarian tart at Luke’s Kitchen that features Jerusalem artichoke. Our diners ask us a lot of questions about it because they often don’t know what a Jerusalem artichoke is or how to cook it.
#2 Collaborating with other chefs
Menu development is a collaborative process and I always involve my head chefs. We’ll each have an input into what we think makes the perfect dish and the process might go something like this: when creating the winter menu at glass brasserie, I approached head pastry chef Natalie about making a panna cotta with mandarins, since they’re in season. She’ll take this idea and come back to me with a way of adding her own flair to the dessert, resulting in a chai panna cotta with mandarin.
The head chefs and I will taste each new dish that we’re developing and it’ll only be finalised when we’re all satisfied with it. When the whole menu is finalised, we’ll have tastings with the wait staff so they know the flavours of each dish and can make recommendations to our diners.
#3 Balancing the menu
It’s not enough to make sure each dish tastes delicious – a great menu needs to have a balanced diversity of ingredients. I think it’s important to have a variety of dishes that feature game meats, beef, chicken and fish, as well as something that caters to vegetarians and vegans. And make sure you don’t do too much of one thing – just because you can secure a huge supply of mushrooms doesn’t mean you should be putting them in every dish.
You also need to match the size of the menu to the amount of traffic the restaurant receives. Luke’s Kitchen is a neighbourhood restaurant so having a menu with five or six entrées and mains, as well as a special, works well. On the other hand, glass brasserie has a much higher volume of traffic and a lot of repeat clientele, so to mix things up we’ll have four to five different specials throughout the week as well as a larger menu.
#4 Evolving dishes over time
Generally, we don’t change all the dishes on the menu when we go into a new season – we’ll keep our signature dishes such as the duck toastie and kingfish sashimi at Luke’s Kitchen and the crab omelette at glass brasserie. These are customer favourites and we won’t vary the recipes much.
Other dishes might evolve over the years to incorporate new inspiration, trends or techniques. I’ve been continuously transforming my liquorice and lime dessert over 25 years – it started as a simple slab of parfait with lime segments and syrup, and today it’s a white chocolate sphere that is cracked open to reveal the liquorice and lime components. You might find that some dishes take a week to create and are never revisited, others you might end up developing over a quarter of a century!