Menu Engineering for Successful Reentry to Our New State of Being

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Article contributed by Gerry Murphy

For years, I have been blessed to work with some of industry’s best and brightest. More recently, I was challenged to help train the next generation of restaurant and foodservice leaders. So, my take on a successful recipe for reopening begins with setting goals for your new restaurant.

I like the idea of a mindset that you are opening for the first time. Start with getting your kitchen and the lobby of your restaurant open for takeout. The reality is that it is here to stay and with all of the Uber Eats and GrubHub technology will become a valuable revenue source moving forward with your menu engineering.

The next step is to take advantage of the summer weather and figure out how to maximize outside seating. Keep in mind that many local municipalities are doing whatever they can to help you. In many cases, they are even letting you setup on the roads adjacent to your location. The governors of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York are also allowing in some cases, groups of up to a 100 to gather. So why not use your creativity to launch a small off premise catering menu?

If you take those steps, I believe that you can generate cash flow that will enable you to work around the challenges of reopening your dining room at only fifty percent capacity. This plan may seem peculiar but let the numbers speak to you remember you have not been closed for renovation or a vacation you were put out business. These four steps can help yourself get whole again.

Things you thought you would never do sadly; they are must do’s before you open your door. Purchase gloves and masks for staff and customers. Print your menu on paper like a takeout menu. Menus are thrown away after each use. Let your customer know that in advance.

  • Inline Plastics Safe-T-Chef
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • DAVO Sales Tax
  • McKee Foodservice
  • Day & Nite
  • RAK Porcelain
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • Imperial Dade
  • RATIONAL USA
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • AyrKing Mixstir

Another idea is to print the menu in an envelope, make sure the envelope can accommodate a paper face mask. If the customer feels comfortable, they can then put their face mask in the envelope while eating. More so than ever the relationship between the kitchen and the wait staff Must be in harmony. A key ingredient to success is not taking former customers for granted. Your former customer is now your new customer. Your waitstaff is the most important player in your new business.

Welcome back Chef, you are back in the training business. Staff training is so important now. How you train your old staff into your new menu Ambassadors is key to your future survival Throw away those old habits, reinvent your restaurant into the property that inspires Safety & Sanitation. Once your customers feel comfortable, they will come back, and they will reward you for your efforts.

Have management start social media blasts during your research. Hopefully the media blasts will pay off. This is so crucial to reopening your restaurant. Remember everyone thinks you are closed. Ask former customers what they want. Ask former customers if they feel comfortable dining in or would they prefer to have take-out or delivery. Let customers know that their food goes from oven to container with no stops in between. In the lobby of your restaurant install a sanitation station. Let customers know where it is and make it user friendly. I recommend having signage that your sanitizing products kill the Corona Virus Bacteria. Instead of hand sanitizer use waterless soap. A brand that comes to mind is Bioneat. It is just as effective and a lot less caustic to your skin. To get the wheels rolling have you thought about breakfast. Coffee and not labor intense and gets the word out there you are open for business.

On re-opening day/night, I would recommend a big beautiful display of fresh flowers/plants. Remember, most of your customers have been cooped up.

As the management team gathers customer info, they should be reaching reach out to customers. If an effort to keep a level workflow staff management should recommend pick up times so the customer comes in as little contact in the restaurant lobby. I recommend hooks be put up on the lobby wall so that paper bags with handles can be placed there and the customer just finds the properly labeled bag and grabs and goes. All food should be prepaid.

In most states you can serve/sell alcohol drinks to go. Have your bartender develop a drink to go menu. What a great opportunity to increase check averages. Do not use paper for drinks additionally make sure the lid works. Make sure the drink menu is in sync with your new menu. Have you thought about snack, Chips Popcorn etc. Plan on a full meal plan to go. Cocktails, Appetizers, Soup, Entrees, & Dessert. If this is done well it will make step three easy. Don’t forget to put reheating instructions on all items.

Embrace your local BOH or local government agency handling this crisis. The last thing you need is a negative relationship with the food & safety police. Call them invite them in ask for guidance it is a new day. Develop an extensive deep cleaning plan and make sure everyone knows your plans. Clean every piece of equipment and all kitchen surfaces. Start with the ceiling and work your way around your establishment. Remember Alcohol based products are the recommended cleaning product for are killing the Corona Virus. Don’t get caught looking. If you think this task is going to be troublesome call a professional. There are a lot of good people out there that work with you and keep you cooking and the BOH happy. These companies can provide you with a seal to display. What could be better to put in your lobby than a seal saying your property your is certified safe.

Go through old sales records and see what your guests liked about your old menu. Use that info as a starting point. Now you are sitting in your kitchen thinking about what it is you want to do. Next question is what your kitchen wants to do. For the sake of this exercise think about all the variables in running your kitchen. Where can you cut your operating costs? Remember at best on opening night you are only going to do half of the restaurants true capacity Try to rethink the way you produced food. Cut back on your utility’s costs Electric, Water, Gas, & Cleaning. Do you need all those refrigerators? Do you need all those fryers?

If you cut back your menu choices, you should be able to cut all your kitchen operating costs. Think about production levels is it important to have four or five stocks? Can one great vegetable stock carry the load in the beginning. Do you have the labor to make stock remember there are some great convenience products out there? Additional savings of labor and stress can be found in making up/plating to go your salads. Think about soup made to perfection cooled right away and then put up in takeout containers. This is not the time to be creating extra work for yourself or your kitchen crew. Think about some kitchen automation. Combi oven, grease cleaning systems, Kitchen Gun, etc.

Limit choices with that said produce beautiful Plates. Do not cover your food with a cardboard top. Start in the beginning do you need ten salad dressings? Make your dressings in house. Pair the salad with the entrée. If customers want something special train them to ask in advance. You cannot make constant menu accommodations with a limited menu and a limited staff. This goes back to staff training. Make sure staff has business cards to give to customers, so that the customer can call in advance for their special request. If the customer is willing to wait and you have the item, the customer wants than do so. This is where all your staff training will pay off big time.

Make sure the dishes you create will reheat well at home. If it does not reheat well, take it off the menu. Tomorrow’s customers are more health concise. Gently cut back on portion size. A little cut from the starch section will not hurt the customer. Cut one or two ounces from the protein section of the plate. So now you have cut two items now add two vegetables to the plate. Now you have a full plate a lot more color and a healthier choice for your guest. Win-win for everyone. Menus need to have a more streamlined workflow for staff. Try to source your menu as locally as possible. There has never been a better time for a Chef to write a menu the season is coming into peak and everyone wants a customer.

Anchor PackagingNow that the plate looks great it is time to find the correct packaging. I am sure before this whole thing happened take out was not a priority. Well now it is; even after you open you might want to consider using disposable products in your dining room. Think about the money saved not washing plates? Soap, electric, labor and no china or glass breakage. Call a packaging expert get some samples that make your food pop. What about flat ware? Do you go with the prewrapped utensils to avoid contact?

How many days a week are you going to be open? This is a tough one. It is key to your future in every department Management, Waitstaff and of course Kitchen Staff.

Think about production and how-to best balance staff. Take some serious time with this issue make up schedules see what it looks like. Make sure you check in with vendors and their delivery schedules they are hurting just as much as you are. A key to business success is that relationships need to have balance.

Now it is time for you to shine up your new menu. Go into your storeroom and create for existing inventory. You only purchase what you need not what you want. Looking at your existing labor what items can you create in house. Developing some inexpensive home-made items to start off the meal. Perhaps make your own fresh signature herb bread. What could be better than finishing off a meal with a house made desert. Again, simple hand pies, pudding.

This is where reaching out to customs, working the phones and social media can pay off big time. Think about small off premise catering (good customer small family dinner party) Tomorrows menu needs to be less complicated for everyone.

Next steps when will you open for lunch? When will you enlarge your menu? When will you start using china again? The answers will come organically if you make the proper plan. Remember: failure to plan is a plan for failure.


Gerry Murphy is a culinary consultant, inventor, and accomplished professional leader offering 35 years’ experience in Culinary Consulting with expertise inRestaurant Operations, Live Cooking Competitions, Certification Consultations, Budget & Finance Administration, Personnel Management, and Project Management. He can be reached at chefgerard@aol.com.

  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • McKee Foodservice
  • RATIONAL USA
  • Imperial Dade
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Day & Nite
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • Inline Plastics Safe-T-Chef
  • DAVO Sales Tax
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado

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