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HA442 : The Class : Food Service Control : Menu Planning : Menu Planning

Menu Planning

The Menu Planning Control Point

Menu planning is the first control point in the food service system.

The menu is a listing of the items the foodservice operation has for sale. Without a menu the customer will not know what their options are for goods to purchase. While, a properly designed menu serves as both a sales and marketing tool for the foodservice operation. It can increase sales and increase the customer check average, because whenever a menu is presented to a customer, a sales transaction begins. The food service operation's menu creates an image of the establishment. Therefore, the appearance of the menu should be in harmony with the image the food service establishment wants to project. The image may be elegant, business like, fun, ethnic, or trendy, depending on what the target markets desire.

Customers are influenced by visual cues provided by the menu, such as readability, physical design, layout, artwork, and type styles. As with other communication tools, "It's not just what you say, it's how you say it that counts."; For example, fast-food or quick service restaurants offer a limited number of menu items but they sell these items in large quantities. Since their customers are served at a common sales counter, separate menus are not needed. Customers are familiar with the standardized menu offerings, so long, elaborate descriptions are not needed. They would only slow down the customer's decision-making process. Fast-food restaurants simply post names and prices of their products near the sales counters. Enlarged color photographs of the menu items show their color and texture and, thus, may contribute to increased sales. (However, it is imperative that the items served look exactly like the pictures; otherwise decreased satisfaction may be the result.) The overall effect is to convey simplicity, speed, and a limited selection of products prepared the same way at every unit.

On the other hand, an independently owned specialty restaurant catering to wealthy, sophisticated diners would have an altogether different menu. First, the number of menu items would probably be much greater. To project an image of elegance, the traditional table service restaurant might have a menu as large as a book with detailed descriptions of its wide range of food products. Such a restaurant recognizes that its customers enjoy the opportunity of endless possibilities normally afforded by an extensive menu. Also, since this establishment's customers are seeking a leisurely and pleasurable dining experience, the time it takes them to peruse the voluminous menu is no problem.

To draw attention to daily specials and highlight signature items of the operation, some restaurants have found it useful to box these items on the menu. Another way to increase sales of featured items is to write the menu items (possibly with prices) on a chalkboard near the entrance. One restaurateur whose establishment specializes in fresh seafood uses a chalkboard to list the flight arrival times of the jet-fresh catch of the day. While this approach sacrifices a degree of elegance, it offers convincing evidence of the freshness and variety of the operation's offerings.

Generally, dynamic or changing menus are preferable to static or unchanging menus. However, menu variability depends on the seasonal availability of raw ingredients, the number and kind of courses offered, the potential for using leftovers and local ingredients, the preferences of the community, the operation's image, and the desires of its target markets.

Another element distinguishes the menu of an elegant restaurant from that of a fast-food restaurant: prices. In some cases, prices are omitted from extensive menus due to seasonal fluctuations in the ingredients. For example, fresh lobster or seafood is often listed a market price due to the daily fluctuations in price. In such cases, the management assumes either that money is no object or that, if it is, the customer will inquire about current prices. When setting menu prices, it is important to remember that today's sophisticated diner is searching for the best price-value relationship. If an operation's prices far exceed the perceived value of its menu items, this can decrease customer satisfaction and negatively affect repeat business.

Besides showing customers the operation's plan for satisfying their expectations, a menu serves another purpose: it functions as a plan for the entire food service system. The success of the menu planning activity has a direct influence on the success of the other basic operating activities. When a menu is initially planned, the resources under the control of the food service manager must be carefully considered. Personnel, equipment, inventory, and facilities all have an impact on menu planning.

Menu Planning Staffing

The operation's employees are important to the success of its menu. Before management begins menu planning, the skill levels of cooking and service personnel must be assessed. It may be helpful to consider the cooking staff and service staff separately, although their functions are intimately related in actual operations.

The cooks, also known as the production staff, is challenged to produce the menu items. This production takes place within the confines of the kitchen or the;back of the house. In planning the operation's menu, the objective is to avoid overloading any one person or work station in the kitchen. A well-planned menu features items that the operation's kitchen personnel can consistently produce while maintaining the operation's quality, cost, and sanitation standards.

Management should be realistic in determining what can be accomplished with the existing staff. A poorly conceived menu increases the food cost, adds to the labor cost, and destroys the quality control system while serving to drive away customers. However, these problems can be avoided by organizing the menu planning function on the basis of the available food products and personnel considerations.

The service staff transfers the menu items from the production staff and kitchen to the customers. In order to properly serve customers, the server should be ready to answer their questions. For example, servers should know what items are on the menu, the portion sizes offered, how the items are prepared, and the prices. Even if the menu contains all of this information, the server can provide a personal touch by answering customers' questions directly. Servers should also know the meaning of all terms used on the menu so they can explain them to any customers who are puzzled. This is particularly true if the menu includes ethnic foods, since these items may be unfamiliar to the average customer.

Again, staff training is critical. In addition to thoroughly training new servers, some managers call a five- to ten-minute line up meeting with service staff members before each meal period. These brief meetings are informal training sessions, in that (a) they give the chef and the manager an opportunity to explain daily specials, and they give the servers an opportunity to sample portions of new menu items and ask questions.

Like the skill levels of production personnel, the skills of the service staff must be considered in menu planning. This is particularly true if management is considering menu items to be prepared in the front of the house,by the service staff, such as tossed salads and desserts. Whether the operation uses tableside preparation or the more common plate- style service depends, in part, on the image it is seeking. However, once the decision is made, the service staff requires training in the serving skills dictated by the menu.

Suppliers are another personnel component to consider when planning a menu. Although suppliers are not, strictly speaking, under the manager's control, these people can contribute to the success of the business. Particularly at the menu planning control point, their input and suggestions can be used to make the business more profitable while enhancing the customer's satisfaction. For example, suppliers can offer preparation and merchandising suggestions for various menu items. The excellent food service companies utilize their suppliers as sources of creative ideas, market trend information, new promotion ideas, and informal competitive analyses as well as purveyors of food, beverage, and non-food items.


Any food service establishment must make a sizable investment in food service equipment before it can open for business. Naturally, the amount and type of production and service equipment owned by the business determines what items it can produce and, therefore, what it places on the menu. It is imperative to select equipment based on capacity, skill levels of employees, energy and maintenance costs, and initial purchase price.

The addition of a new menu item may require that the business purchase new production equipment. Such additions should not be made without an analysis of product flow and personnel movement. With this analysis management should anticipate where cross-traffic may create safety and sanitation concerns as well as bottlenecks in production.

A dramatically modified menu can have a devastating effect on the system if proper equipment is not available to prepare the new menu items. For example, the addition of banquet service to a traditional food service operation must be carefully weighed in light of the additional constraints banquets place on menu planning and equipment. For example, if a hotel is planning to serve a banquet for 800, all of the food items cannot be dished for all 800 guests immediately prior to service. Therefore, extra hot-holding and cold storage equipment is essential. Also, the hotel should limit its banquet menu to items which can safely withstand the extra handling and holding times involved.


A menu is a listing of the items the operation is offering for sale, whereas the inventory is the sum total of items the operation has purchased. The menu helps to create a demand for the finished food items produced from inventory. The customer's order is a purchase decision which results in a depletion of the goods on hand. Eventually, the operation must replenish the inventory, if it is to continue offering the items customers are buying. It is important to keep detailed records on the relative popularity of every menu item.

The menu directly affects the establishment's purchasing, receiving, and storing requirements. The size of storage areas needed for raw ingredients and finished menu items depends on the menu. One of the primary advantages of a limited menu is that it reduces storage area requirements.

In the past, food service managers attempted to achieve diversify on their menus. Often, this was accomplished by the addition of many new menu items. Since most items were made from scratch, the number and variety of raw ingredients was correspondingly increased.

Now there is a trend toward cross-utilization of menu items. That is, simplification is being sought for the sake of operational efficiency. This strategy frequently results in a limited menu. Alternatively, the operation can offer several menu items which use the same raw ingredients. The objective of this cross-utilization is to prepare and serve as many menu item selections as possible with a limited number of raw ingredients. When the menu is carefully planned to ensure a balance of menu selections in each category, the result of these new strategies can be a streamlining of purchasing, receiving, and storing functions.

Today, as in the past, food service managers are searching for new menu item alternatives. However, the proliferation of high quality convenience foods has made it easier for food service operations to offer new items without having to buy additional raw ingredients or elaborate equipment. High quality convenience products can be purchased in semi-prepared or fully prepared forms. Because they have built-in labor, they also reduce in-house labor requirements. Of course, convenience food products usually have a higher AP (as purchased) price than the raw ingredients from which they are made.

It is always best to base initial menu plans on the needs and desires of the target markets. However, several other factors may influence the menu selection. Among these factors are: the recommended storage conditions (time and temperature); personnel skill levels; the product's availability and seasonality; the stability of quality and price levels; and the operation's ability to purchase, prepare, and serve the menu item in a safe and sanitary way.

Menu Planning and Facilities

The facilities, both indoor and outdoor, affect the image of a food service establishment. The layout and design of the facilities are also important considerations in menu planning, because they establish the physical limits within which food preparation and service take place.

From the standpoint of menu planning, the kitchen and dining room facilities are a critical resource of the business. The facilities must be adequate for the purchasing, receiving, storing, issuing, preparing, cooking, holding, and serving of every item on the menu. Thus, a major change in menu may necessitate remodeling of the physical facilities. By the same token, a change in the facilities used by a food service business may force a revision of its menu. This mutual influence can be illustrated by

Menu Planning and Change

To take another example, a hotel may decide to add room service to its offerings to generate more revenue and profits. Again, the size and layout of the facility has an impact on the success of the effort. For example, the kitchen may produce a beautiful and tasty eggs Benedict entree for breakfast, but by the time room service delivers the order to the farthest wing of guestrooms, the product is cold and unappealing. Therefore, room service menus must be limited to those items that can be successfully and safely delivered to the customer.

Yet another problem is created when an overly ambitious hotel sales force convinces meeting planners that special entrees or desserts will add a touch of elegance and class to their banquets. These salespeople have not thought about the limitations of the hotel's production and service facilities. Again, an outdoor barbecue for 500 people in the hotel's gardens may sound like an exciting, fun affair; but if the kitchen or service staff cannot deliver the products, customer satisfaction will not be achieved.

In all of these examples, the unfortunate results could be prevented by structuring the operation's offerings around what the physical facilities can realistically handle. By now it should be clear that menu planning is a complex process, but menu planning is more successful when the establishment's resources are taken into consideration. Because conditions change, a food service operation's menu must change also. Menu changes are modified by both external and internal factors.

External modifiers

Include consumer demands, economic factors, the competition, supply levels, and industry trends. Consumer demands are perhaps the most important factor to consider in changing a menu. Management should first decide which potential markets it wants to attract with the modified menu. Then the proposed menu change must be evaluated in light of the negative and/or positive effects it may have on the current clientele.

Economic factors include the cost of ingredients and the potential profitability of new menu items. Menu items offered by the competition may dictate choices to offer or not offer. For example, a hotel food service located next to a restaurant offering the best Oriental food in town may elect not to serve Oriental cuisine. Supply levels relate the price to the quality and quantity of the proposed menu items. Supply levels are highly variable for some seasonal raw ingredients such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Industry trends are general observations about how the industry is responding to new demands. At present, the overall trends relate to a more sophisticated average customer who is searching for the best price-value relationship.

Internal modifiers which may result in a proposed menu change are the facility's meal pattern, concept and theme, operational system, and menu mix. The typical meal pattern is breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Management must decide if existing meal periods should be continued or altered. The target markets' expectations have a direct influence on this decision. Any change must fit with the establishment's concept and theme. An establishment's image may also rule out certain foods which do not blend with its theme and decor.

Menu changes are also modified by the establishment's operational system. For example, if extensive new equipment purchases are crucial to the successful production and service of the menu item, the change may be too costly. On the other hand, the change may raise both food and labor costs to unacceptable levels. Or, in some cases, the skill levels of production and service personnel may not be adequate to successfully produce and present the new menu item. The operation's existing menu has a certain overall combination or mix of items. This menu mix will be affected by any change in individual items. All of these modifiers should be evaluated before menu changes are finalized and implemented.

Finally, truth-in-menu is another menu planning consideration that is growing in importance. Above all, accurate descriptions of raw ingredients and finished menu items are essential. The correct quality or grade of food products must be stated. Care must be exercised when US Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades are printed on the menu; A choice sirloin steak; listed on the menu implies that the meat is USDA Choice grade. A product billed as Fresh Lake Pacific Snapper should indeed be fresh from the Pacific. Other representations of points of origin must be accurate.

The size, weight, or portion advertised on the menu also must be accurate. For meat items, it is generally accepted that the weight listed is the precooked weight. A bowl of soup should contain more than a cup of soup. Descriptions like &;extra tall ; drinks or ;extra large ; salads can open the door to possible complaints from customers. All you can eat implies that the customer is entitled to have exactly that. Fresh products are not frozen, canned, or preserved in any way. Canned green beans are not frozen, and frozen grapefruit juice is not fresh.

Other truth-in-menu violations may occur. The preparation technique (e.g., sautéed in butter) must be accurate. If an additional charge will be assessed for extras (e.g., Roquefort dressing, substitutions, coffee refills), that must be clearly stated on the menu. Any pictures used to visually display a food product should be accurate. Dietary or nutritional claims must be precise, if used. ;Low calorie ; is vague because it implies that the product is lower in calories but it doesn't specify what the product is being compared to. Oral descriptions by servers are important merchandising aids. Their phrases should correctly describe the menu selections.


The menu is an important component of food service operations. It serves as a marketing tool, determines inventory, storage space required, skill level and number of cooking staff and service, equipment levels and types. Care must be taken when the menu is developed and modified to make sure the operation can handle the new additions to the menu.

Every aspect of the operation contributes to or detracts from its success. Dirty, worn, soiled, out-of-date, and unattractive menus indicate management's lack of concern for the establishment's image in the minds of its customers. Because they create a negative first impression, these menus should be eliminated from stock. Someone should be in charge of reviewing the condition of all menus before the meal period begins.

To complete this Topic successfully, please complete the following activities in the order shown below:

ASSIGNMENT 1: Find a site on the web that has menus, print the menu and identify the strengths

You should now:

Go on to Purchasing / Ordering
Go back to Food Service Control Points

Send E-mail to Dr. Rande or call (520) 523-1710


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