4 menu management skills every chef needs

Goodman Fielder Food Service
4 menu management skills every chef needs

4 menu management skills every chef needs

Posted on 29th January 2020
Want to make your menu management an easy task? We've found 4 ways you can manage your menu while saving you costs.


When it comes to chef skills, menu management is one of the most important. Not only just pricing food, but ensuring you have dishes your customers know and love while also having some that allow you to experiment with techniques and flavours can be a frustrating balancing act. But one of the most common mistakes venues make with their menus, is setting and then forgetting about them. No menu should ever be set in stone; they should be reviewed every time ingredient costings change, whenever new trends appear and even when the seasons change.

It’s important to remember that a menu isn’t just a list of dishes you offer, it’s your sales tool. So, it should be considered as one of the most important chef skills and top priority when working in a kitchen.

But how exactly do you manage a menu once it has been out in the market for some time? From conducting regular research on your competitors to reviewing your ingredients listings and prices; each menu management step can help improve your menu, customer’s expectations and overall bottom-line.

1. Regularly research your competitors:

Person looking at a blackboard menu

Knowing what venues around you are doing is an important step to ensuring your menu is relevant, up-to-date and exactly what your customers want or expect. When you are looking at making changes, conduct some market research beforehand to ensure the changes you are proposing benefit the venue (and of course your customers).

As part of your market research, review the menus of similar venues within close proximity to your business. Also study the interests and values of your diners. For example, are they driven by costs, do a large percentage follow a vegetarian or vegan diet or do they want lighter options, such as finger foods?

On top of this, monitor what is happening on social media and the broader internet. Visit websites of your competitors and find out as much detail as possible about their menu and the ingredients they are using. Better yet, take some time to dine at these venues to gather a true understanding to what is pulling in their customers.

By conducting this research, it allows you to continue to grow the business, gain a true insight into your customers and what drives their tastebuds, while extending the gap between yourself and competitors. It also helps you determine what works and what hasn’t –giving you an idea on what to swap out and what not to.

2. Keep up with the trends:

Image of two menus

Menus should offer a balance of unique dishes and old favourites. So regularly reviewing what trends are making an impact within Australia and overseas as part of your menu management is important to ensuring you remain relevant and in front of your customers.

When researching for trends, look for ways they can be added to your menu to drive demand but be sure not to fall for the common food fad. Food fads are known for popping up out of nowhere and disappearing just as quickly.

Some food fads from the past include the use of pumpkin spice, creation of rainbow coloured foods, and the movement to wanting deconstructed food. When we talk about food trends, we mean trends that are set to make their mark within the industry as a whole and for a long period of time, such as the solo dining movement.

When looking over the last two years, we’ve seen the burger trend get bigger and bigger, we’ve witnessed the movement towards smoked meats and vegetables and the demand for gut-friendly drinks and foods. And as we tick into 2020, we’re faced with more food trends that you can add to your menu to attract customers, increase revenue and remain relevant.

Some food trends moving across Australia’s hospitality industry this year include:

  • Organic – customers are now aware of how food contributes to their overall well being and are changing their diets accordingly with the intake of organic foods.
  • Plant-based – the availability of plant-based foods has never been greater. Recently, we’ve seen the introduction of plant-based sausages, burger patties, nuggets and cheese, as well as milks with pea and oat milk soaring up the list.
  • Buying local – a major factor that consumers associate with freshness and high quality is food sourced locally. When it comes to communicating that on your menu, use wording like ‘picked today’, ‘locally sourced’, ‘fresh ingredients’ – these will help catch the attention of customers.
  • Less added sugar – in line with the healthy food movement, customers are now working to cut foods that have a high sugar percentage but still deliver a flavoursome experience. This trend has showed an increase in dark chocolate as people see it as a better alternative due to its higher cocoa and lower sugar content.

3. Ensure your price reflect the meal:

Chef looking at prices of ingredients

More often than not, many venues offer meals that are either overpriced or too under-priced. Charge too little and you won’t cover the cost of the food, charge too much and you risk sending customers over to your neighbours. The prices displayed on your menu need to reflect the meal as a whole, not just what you want to pocket at the end of the shift. Before pricing foods as a whole meal, ensure you know exactly how much it costs to create the dish. To accurately price food, it is essential to identify three main points:

  • Direct expenses – meaning the cost of ingredients.
  • Indirect expenses – the outlying costs and overheads. This could include your rent, salaries, utilities and advertisings. Remember, lower overhead means greater profit.
  • Profit margin – targeted to be competitive and viable. According to reports, the average restaurant profit margin is around 3-5% but can broadly range from 0-15%. Two ways to widen profit margins are increasing sales and decreasing costs.

When it comes to pricing, the general rule of thumb is that your food costs shouldn’t exceed 30% of the menu price. You should also ensure you have a balance of high and low costs foods for a reasonable profit margin. For lower cost foods, you can sell them for a higher price to increase margin, whereas higher cost foods, such as meats, may shrink the margin, so pricing them within range is crucial.

It is important to continually and carefully monitor food costs as they fluctuate frequently. With the current environmental issues occurring across Australia – droughts and fires – it is more important than ever for you to keep an eye on the prices you are paying and price tag that is then presented to your customers on your menu.

4. Make sure your menu is versatile at all times:

Two meals with avocado on it

Whenever you make a change to your menu, you need to ensure that it remains versatile and that no item on the menu is offered as a stand-alone. Why? Because this helps keep your overall costs down when it comes to ordering produce. When thinking of your menu, you should never have an item that stands alone; each ingredient should be able to be used in at least two or three menu items.

For example, if you are offering avocado on toast to your customers, make sure it’s included in a number of other dishes, either as a spread for burgers or as a garnish for salad. By doing this, it lowers the risk of wastage within the kitchen while also reducing the overall costs of ingredients.


Menu management is one of the most valuable chef skills you can learn. But when it comes to menu management, always do your research before executing anything (chefs, this includes removing a dish from the menu). Look at what your best-selling meals are, as well as your worst selling, review the food costings for each dish, check out what your competitors are doing and what the latest trends are for your segment.

Each step will help you effectively manage your menu, your customer’s expectations (and tastebuds), as well as your bottom-line. But lastly, remember not to try to do too much. Don’t overwhelm your customers with choices. Keep your menu to seven or eight dishes in each category. At the end of the day, an effective menu can bring in new customers and keep them coming back.

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