We were asked the other day by a diner at The Stone Grill how we developed the menu we offer. The diner was interested to know the process of coming up with dishes and how we selected the ones we serve from the hundreds of thousands of recipes out there.
In the beginning, the menu is an open book constrained only by the type of restaurant you want to run. In our case, we knew quite early on that we wanted to offer steak on a stone as our signature dish. This gradually developed into fish on a stone and then other meats on a stone as we explored the options open to us. With the core offering set, we could develop the rest of the menu.
There are three main menu types, mixed, table d’hote and a la carte. A mixed menu offers a selection of dishes from three courses but also includes salads with dishes or specific extras. Table d’hote is a set menu with a specific number of courses containing specific dishes. An a la carte menu is where you can select starter, main and dessert independently of each other from a selection. Ours is a la carte.
Developing the menu further
Once you have a core dish, theme or concept for the menu, you have to build choice around it. As we had already selected steak on a stone as our signature dish, we had to come up with a range of other dishes that would complement that but also offer the variety the modern diner expects.
There are other things that can influence a restaurant menu, including:
Chef skills and expertise – A French chef will want to cook French food, a generalist chef can turn their hand to many things.
Operational concept – Are you a fast casual restaurant, formal, quick service? The menu you offer has to match the kind of restaurant you want to run. In our case, informal but quality.
Availability of ingredients – Modern restaurants are all about seasonal ingredients with a known provenance. If there are specific ingredients available around the location, it makes sense to use those.
Target market – A big influence over any menu is the people you want to serve it to. For The Stone Grill, being in Blackpool meant it would be predominantly couples and families.
The competition – Finally, you have to be aware of what the competition is doing and either do something completely different or do it better.
Once you have a selection of dishes that might work, it’s time to test them. First, test them within the team and then offer taste tests to current or future diners. It’s a long process but a necessary one. While you might love what you’re cooking, your target market may not.
Test and test again until you have refined a modest selection of dishes from each course. If you can’t use all that you want, save them for a seasonal menu or special. There will always be a need for more dishes. Then, once you’re happy, it’s time to introduce the new menu. Then the whole process begins again ready for the next menu change!