As vaccines roll out across the country, consumers are beginning to dine in restaurants more frequently.

After over a year of focusing on takeout and delivery, it might be time to eye new ways to expand your dine-in menu offerings while keeping costs low. Here are six tips to keep in mind when cultivating menus for the crowds to come.

Offer Customizations on Existing Menu Items

One way to ‘beef up’ a menu without bringing on additional inventory is to offer add-ons to existing menu items. For example, if you have a Caesar salad on the menu, you could include an option for adding proteins like chicken, steak, or fish. You could also upsell certain sandwiches and salads by adding items like cheese or avocado.

Create a Menu Category for Pairings

Rather than creating new dishes, one way to expand your menu is to add a category that allows guests to pair two or more dishes for one set price. This could be as simple as a soup and salad combo or more complex, as in a prix fixe or chef’s tasting menu that combines multiple courses and optional beverage pairings.

Challenge Chefs to Brainstorm

Working with the BOH staff and your inventory list, identify existing product that you already have available that can be used in different ways. For example, if you are already using carrots as a side on an entrée, consider how you could use them creatively in a soup, salad, or appetizer. Challenge your chefs to come up with a list of ideas using existing ingredients and encourage them to cost them out so that you can see what your costs would be if you choose to run a certain menu item. Some restaurant operators allow chefs to create new menu items during off-hours, with staff tastings to analyze the flavor, appearance, and marketability of the dish. This can be a great way to stimulate creativity and team building as you give a sense of ownership to your chefs.

Boozy Frozen BeveragesTest New Items as Specials

Before you commit to adding a dish to your menu, see what reception it has as a special. This allows you to invest in a smaller amount of inventory to execute the dish and can give you a sense of where the item falls in your menu spread in terms of popularity.

Hit the Sweet Tooth

If you have a pastry team making your desserts in-house, you likely have most of what you need for a wide variety of dessert items. Therefore, creating adaptable, versatile desserts that appeal to consumers is achievable without bringing on much new inventory. This is another example of a menu category where you can encourage your chefs to think creatively and pitch their ideas. Adding desserts or something like boozy milkshakes is a clever way to increase customer satisfaction while increasing ticket averages.

Stay True to Your Brand

It can be tempting to add menu items in the hopes of attracting new customers, but it’s important to remember what your restaurant is all about and to avoid chasing trends. Whenever you add something to your menu, ask yourself if it aligns with the vision you have for your restaurant.

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