A Menu Planning Guide for New Chefs

by | Mar 2, 2023

The best restaurant and catering menus are carefully planned and deliberately written. Chefs & caterers know that the menu is more than words and photos–this is the heart of your restaurant and the only communication that every one of your guests will see and read. As a wholesale restaurant supplier, Schenck Foods understands that whether you’re an established restaurant, a new bistro, or an event caterer, your menu is your #1 marketing piece. We get that profitability analysis is a key part of a smart menu design. And we’re here to help with our in-house menu planning services.

While menu planning is a skillset that chefs and caterers build over time, there are some tips and tricks that even established vendors ignore. By being thoughtful – carefully blending your theme, design and price point – without exceeding food and labor costs or overwhelming your staff with a menu that is either beyond their skill or kitchen capacity, you can accurately predict profitability and improve your restaurant’s efficiency.

Here are three principle themes that can help guide your menu planning process.

1. Plan Ahead For Internal Cost Controls and Menu Pricing

Most restaurants operate on a profit margin of just 3-5 percent. Catering is only slightly higher at 7-8 percent. That doesn’t leave room for wasteful spending.

Typical restaurant menu revenue breakdown

That’s why controlling food costs should be a primary objective for any restaurant or caterer. When you misjudge ordering or overspend on food costs, it directly affects your (already razor thin) bottom line. Customized forecasting based on historical data helps you improve restaurant operations by reducing food costs over time. Look at monthly and yearly sales data to make better inventory decisions and smarter prep quantities, creating less food waste and optimizing labor costs. (Do we help you do that at Schenck Foods? Yes. Yes we do.)

To improve food cost control measures we recommend you adopt a data-driven culture. Help your entire team collect, analyze, and use data consistently, making it easily accessible and establishing clear goals and guidelines for its use. This includes reviewing the cost of goods sold (CoGS) daily–not weekly–to spot rising costs and adjust appropriately.

A young chef in a coffee shop works on menu planning

Closely monitor and manage your inventory. At Schenck Foods we don’t want to upsell you on products you don’t need or won’t use. It’s time consuming, but inventory tracking is an essential restaurant task—the more efficient your supply supply orders, the more you add to your bottom line. With data-driven ordering, informed by historical and forecasted sales as well as accurate inventory data, you are better able to purchase wholesale food supplies at the right level to reduce order waste.

One of the most important parts of this process is using food cost percentage to determine the numbers your guests actually see—the prices on your menu. By accurately understanding your food costs you can proceed to pricing your menu items properly and maximize the profitability of your menu items. You can quickly identify what items are underpriced or overpriced and make food cost decisions about revising recipes or ingredients.

For example, if you’re selling a large quantity of a low margin item you can make adjustments to either raise the menu price or adjust portion sizes. Menu planning also reveals menu opportunities, like promoting a menu item that is high margin but low sales. These are data-driven decisions that lower the cost of food and increase profit margin.

2. Create a Plan To Prevent Waste

Reducing food waste may be one of the easiest ways to see a fast return, and is a smart consideration when menu planning. On average, businesses save 7 times what they invest in reducing their food waste! This means that pretty much any food waste reduction strategy you try will be a financial success.

Food waste from poor menu planning arranged in the shape of flowers

You already know that approximately one-third of your restaurant’s revenue is allocated to the cost of goods sold (COGS). If you end up throwing that food away, you’re effectively losing money that could have been profit or used to cover other expenses.

Remember that data-driven model we recommended above? Plan your menu around ingredients, rather than dishes. By including multi-use meals and using the same food item in multiple dishes, you can help reduce waste and save money by allowing you to order in bulk. You can also look at what dishes are the least popular on the menu and consider removing them. Purchasing ingredients for dishes that are ordered less frequently is likely to result in more spoilage.

Waste prevention is a key principle of menu planning, and we’re passionate about the increase in profitability that can result from a carefully considered waste prevention plan.

3. Consider Seasonality and Locality

Finally, work with us to plan seasonal menus. Seasonal produce tends to be more affordable, since the supply is so large. It also tastes significantly better. Big, plump, in-season strawberries are a far cry from their small, bland, winter cousins. Seasonal menus give you the opportunity to refresh your menu, but without careful planning a seasonal menu change could increase your cost of goods, despite the large supply.

Seasonal menu planning can help keep costs down

By working with Schenck Foods ahead of time, we can advise you on leveraging inexpensive local produce, as well as abundant seasonal supply.

Some restaurants completely rewrite their menus seasonally. It’s more common to have a primary menu with a small selection of seasonal items that change several times per year, (based on those data-driven decisions we discussed above). These seasonal changes keep the menu fresh and give regular customers something to look forward to.

Strategic Menu Planning with Schenck Foods

Whether it’s a one-time partnership or a long term relationship, we’re familiar with the demands restaurants and caterers face. That’s where Schenck Foods’ wholesale pricing, local knowledge, menu planning, and long experience come into play.

We have competitive pricing, quick order processing, friendly and efficient staff, and rapid turnaround and delivery time. What we don’t have is a mediocre selection, slow corporate hassle, or hidden fees.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to ask questions or request special ingredients.