Getty Images

Curating the Perfect Restaurant Menu

Here's how to give your pizzeria's menu the variety it needs while keeping it streamlined and ensuring profitability.

  • When determining the size of your restaurant’s menu, a good benchmark to shoot for is one page, double-sided.
  • The straightforward approach is to place your popular and most profitable menu items in the spotlight.

Related: Greg Rapp’s 9 steps to a more profitable menu

By Zach Williams

So, you’ve started a new restaurant business and are workshopping your menu. You probably have plenty of questions: How many menu items should it have? What sections should be included, and where should they be situated? How can you maximize customers’ orders with your layout?

There’s no one right answer to any of these questions. However, there are best practices that chefs and restaurant owners have perfected over decades. This guide will provide a framework, divided into two sections, that anyone can follow to curate a great menu.

Menu Size
Where to start? Well, determining the size of your menu is imperative: A good benchmark to shoot for is one page, double-sided. That doesn’t count drink lists because they often take up a significant amount of space. You can include them with the rest of the menu or separately, but what we’re focusing on here, principally, is curating your main menu: the entrees, sides, appetizers, and specials.

If you’re looking through a menu that requires flipping through multiple pages, you’re either at a Denny’s or dealing with a menu that’s far too long. Menus numbering several pages inherently feel a bit cheap and kitschy, unless the restaurant is family-style and offers a wide selection of affordable dishes (like a Denny’s).

OK, let’s say you do not operate a family restaurant. Overstuffed menus give your customers the paradox of choice: While having plenty of options sounds favorable, it actually requires more effort to choose and may make customers doubt their final choice, because there were many others that they didn’t try—what if those were better? You want patrons to choose quickly and with confidence. Large menus require more deliberation, which leads to slower table turnover, decreasing the number of customers you can serve. Using a concise menu will allow you to simultaneously satisfy your customers and maximize revenue.

Perhaps the most important factor: It will be difficult to consistently stock a large menu, especially with the current supply chain issues. It would be better to focus on a sizable selection of items made with ingredients that you know will be available, rather than overpromising a wide range of dishes when only a few of them can be reliably made. On top of that, and regardless of supply problems, it’s hard for chefs to handle preparing too many different menu items. You don’t want to spread their expertise too thin over an excess of offerings. A streamlined menu will allow your cooks to give their full attention to a manageable number of quality items.

Remember, your aim should be to keep your menu one page and double-sided, just like these professional menu designs. Now, let’s get into menu sections.

Related: 6 ways a kids menu can improve the family-dining experience

Menu Sections
The straightforward approach is to place your popular and most profitable menu items in the spotlight. On the front side of the menu, right below your title header, insert your appetizers section. That way, it’s the first thing that your hungry customers will see.

After your appetizers, place your mains section, and highlight the most popular pizzas or entrees with a distinction—for example, next to the name of the menu item, state that it’s a “Chef’s Choice” or “Customer Favorite.” To keep it really simple, you could just place a star next to those items. These designations boost the appeal and credibility of the dishes.

Some restaurants divide their main dishes into multiple sections. For example, an establishment that offers Italian-American food might have a pizza section, a pastas section, a sandwiches section, and a catch-all “entrees” section, because the nature of the cuisine is such that many of the items are pizzas, pastas or sandwiches. If this is the case for your restaurant, you should place the most accessible section in front. Pizzas would probably constitute your most accessible section since (almost) everyone loves a good pizza. They’re delicious and affordable. It’s what they’d expect to see on the front page of your menu.

If you do decide to have multiple mains sections, keep them short—your decision to have more than one is variety enough. As for the total number of entrees you should offer, a good range to shoot for is anywhere between 10 and 14. That’s a sufficient variety of items while only taking up two sides of a page.

Now, what should you do with your other sections? Let’s say altogether you have your pizzas, appetizers, sides, specials, drinks and desserts. As mentioned earlier, you should place your appetizers, pizzas, and even specials upfront—those will be the primary components of your customer’s dinner anyway. The remaining sections can sit on the back side of the menu.

Include a handful of interesting sides that will complement any dish. Don’t make them oversized—a cheap add-on to a dish is more likely to be purchased than a large, heavy distraction. As for the desserts, include your standard offerings (cannoli, ice cream, etc.) and add three or so signature sweets that will make your dessert section stand out. As usual, place the unique items at the top.

Finally, show some love to your drinks section. Don’t just sell fountain drinks, coffee and water as your non-alcoholic choices. A “gourmet” bottled soda is a much better option than a fountain beverage that customers can buy virtually anywhere. You could also include a few “mocktails,” which will thrill underage customers. The overarching point here is to give every menu section some personality, even the more overlooked ones. It will make for a much more enjoyable, well-rounded dining experience.

Congratulations, you now know how to curate a streamlined and successful menu. Best of luck, and happy menu-making!

Zach Williams is a staff writer for MustHaveMenus who is studying English at the University of Southern California.