Crafting a Cost-Effective Restaurant Menu Starts with Understanding the Customer

Creating a menu is one of the most important parts of operating a restaurant, whether starting anew restaurant, purchasing an existing one or just taking over the day-to-day operations. And as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge restaurant operators, it’s more important than ever to craft a menu that’s not just attractive and high in quality but also economically feasible.

Lee Schulman, founder of Panacea Management Group (PMG) Consulting, is a restaurant owner and operator with three decades of experience in all facets of restaurant operation, including menu design. As a result, he is the perfect person to address the challenges and considerations restaurants need to consider when putting together a cost-effective menu.

“The first thing, and one of the most important, is to understand the customer,” Schulman says. “Operators have to know their market. Not just what people like, but what the market can tolerate from a price standpoint. If they go into a market where the median income is $40,000 a year, that might not be the best place to open a high-end steakhouse. On the flip side, if the median income is $100,000 a year, theydon’t want to leave money on the table.”

When designing a menu, Schulman continues, it’s essential to keep these things in mind:

  • Source locally where you can.“If you have a strong relationship with a local or unique vendor or producer, now is a great time to maximize the synergy of that relationship. Highlighting an ingredient that only you carry and that is sourced in your community is a great public relations move for you. It also provide a reliable supply of that ingredient.  Also, when a restaurant can get products and ingredients that are locally sourced and available, they can potentially be less expensive and of a higher quality.”
  • Be mindful of how COVID affects the menu. “The pandemic really accentuates the importance of not just the cost of labor but also the actual labor supply. It can be a real challenge to have consistent labor in place. Operators want a menu that different people can be working on at different times and still produce the same quality results.”
  • Keep it simple. And keep it short. “There will be time to expand the menu later, as operators learn their market’s likes and dislikes, and begin building a clientele.”

Lee Schulman is the owner and operator of Old Vinings Inn and has three decades of experience with such respected restaurant companies as Morrison Restaurants, Inc. (L&N Seafood Grille, Silver Spoon Café), Buckhead Life Restaurant Group (Atlanta Fish Market), Liberty House Restaurant Corporation (OK Café), Brookwood Grill, Stoney River, Here to Serve Restaurants (TomTom) and Saltyard.

Schulman also runsPanacea Management Group Consulting(PMG), offering consultations in menu research and development, service auditing and training, and restaurant operations procedures and systems. Heholds a degree in food systems, economics and management from Michigan State University and attended the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute.