10 Small Restaurant Menu Ideas - The Ultimate Guide

10 Small Restaurant Menu Ideas - The Ultimate Guide

Most restaurants have the same old, “just fine” menu. But if you want to make your restaurant successful, you need the best restaurant menu ideas for your small business that will meet the essential requirements and be profitable and appealing. Here are 10 small restaurant menu ideas that will help get people in the door with their money!

  1. Start by writing down every dish or beverage item from start to finish
  2. Design for maximum versatility while still reflecting your style
  3. Place items of a higher price on top, with others beneath
  4. Group which items serve different functions
  5. The free online ordering system you choose should make this easy
  6. A huge list is overwhelming. Keep it short and sweet
  7. Make sure that descriptions are accurate
  8. Design friendly to the eye
  9. Use food porn pictures to improve the impact of your menu
  10. Focus on creating a menu that works for your restaurant

10 Small Restaurant Menu Ideas To Beat The Competition

Considering the design of your restaurant menu is essential to create a welcoming and familiar atmosphere for guests. When you're designing, all dishes must be reflected in some way on the menu so people know what they can order. Here are 10 proven and tested small restaurant menu ideas to implement in 2021:

1- Start by writing down every dish or beverage item from start to finish

Don't worry about aesthetics yet! Just get them out there where you'll be able to see everything at once without getting overwhelmed with input. Make sure these items reflect who you want as customers and have particular requirements for allergies, etc.

This is also a great time to make sure you have the means to pull off these items. For example, if your food requires a grill that has not been functioning properly, this is probably not the best time to add anything with grilling involved!

2- Design for maximum versatility while still reflecting your style

I want each item on my list to be able to fit on that one menu. Unless I'm doing a tasting menu, I want people to have the chance to see all of my dishes in their entirety without having to ask if we can print out different sheets or anything of the sort.

Also, you don't want something like an entree (like roasted salmon) and a side (like rice) to be listed separately. These are usually best grouped together in their own section, and then the entrees should go above or below that.

3- Place items of a higher price on top, with others beneath

If you're doing a tasting menu, this might not apply. But if you have several entrees that are roughly the same price, or a few appetizers and then a few mains, follow this rule! You want people to see the most expensive items first to make their decisions as soon as possible.

This is also another way to get them to order an entree right off the bat, instead of going for just an appetizer.

4- Group which items serve different functions

Many restaurants have a seasonal menu, where some things are only available during certain times of the year. If you're one of these, make sure you design your layout based on this so people can see that they can't order something out of season and know not to ask for it!

Instead of a "Seafood" section on your menu, use one for the main seafood dishes, and then another for a seasonal "Soups & Salads," which uses what's in season.

5- The free online ordering system you choose should make this easy

If you're opting for the best restaurant menu ideas, ensure that your free online ordering system supports what you're trying to do! Expanding items can make things difficult if they have a lot of different components like side items.

If you're using such an online system, I hope one like ours will help when designing your menu because it offers constant support with whatever you do.

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6- A huge list is overwhelming. Keep it short and sweet

You want to make sure your menu reflects the number of choices you have without overloading customers while still giving them what they need to make a decision. For example, if you're doing a tasting menu with ten different dishes, this might be too much to include on one menu.

Instead, try separating them by seasons or even months and then making a seasonal menu of the different dishes that you can change in accordance with the weather!

7- Make sure that descriptions are accurate

You should never misrepresent what your restaurant offers. As long as it fits within what you have available for guests to make a dish, you shouldn't do this. If something is described as having garlic but doesn't actually have it, people will be disappointed!

Listing what goes into your dishes and how they were prepared is important for two reasons: to set expectations and to avoid any disappointment when the meal comes out looking different than how it was advertised. This can even be something as little as saying "gluten-free bread" if it actually does have some flour in it.

8- Design friendly to the eye

Don't go overboard on design, but also don't use a menu that you're not only used to looking at yourself! People coming into your restaurant should recognize what they're seeing on your menu immediately and know what they're ordering. If it requires a lot of effort to figure out or looks like something you wouldn't order at all, try switching things up!

9- Use food porn pictures to improve the impact of your menu

If you're trying to avoid an over-the-top design for your menu, using great pictures of what you serve can help make people feel more comfortable about the food without making it look too different from a traditional menu. Make sure all images are actually real photos taken in your restaurant and not just stock photography!

Food pictures don't have to be perfect either, so long as they're relevant.

10- Focus on creating a menu that works for your restaurant

This is why layout and design are so important: because if you focus too much on trying to make something look like another successful business, it can end up looking like nothing at all! Even using the basic principles of the best restaurant menu ideas, you can still make your design perfect.


Often, it's just a matter of recognizing what works best for your establishment and then using that as your guide. If you're trying to make something look like an extremely popular business miles away from where you are because they did well with their design, try looking at other establishments in your area that have done similar things and make similar dishes!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How many items should be on a small restaurant menu?

The question of how many menu items are appropriate for a small restaurant is an important one. According to Gregg Rapp, if there are over seven on the menu, it will be too much for customers, and they'll default back to what's familiar instead of exploring new options with more interesting flavor profiles that might appeal to them.

2. What is menu optimization?

Menu optimization is the process of continually improving your menu. This can mean a number of things. It could be about making sure all of your food cost categories are as low as possible, recalculating portion sizes and prices to make sure you're getting the best margins on everything you sell or even just tweaking your menu to better serve your customers.

3. What are the types of a menu?

The five most common types of menus are a la carte, static Menu, du jour Menu, cycle menu, and fixed.

La carte

A la carte means that you can order anything off the extensive list without having to commit to ordering an entire meal ahead of time.

Static menu

Static Menu has set items on their particular days - for example, Wednesday's lunch might always be chicken fajitas. Thursday may always be pork chops with applesauce or lamb shanks in red wine sauce; Friday could offer roasted duck breast as well as beef tenderloin tips w/mushrooms & shallots over wild rice pilaf.

Du Jour menu

A Du Jour menu means that whatever items are in season or fresh will be available on that day. This is good for customers and chefs because it allows them to use ingredients at their peak of the season, so everything will be as fresh as possible.

Cycle menus

Cycle menus are a combination of static and du jour. Cycle menus have set items for lunch & dinner but change daily or every few days.

For example, you could have a set menu for lunch that offers a choice of soup/salad/sandwich on Monday; salad/sandwich and pasta dish on Tuesday; sandwich/soup and taco plate Wednesday; soup & salad bar Thursday; etc. This way, the chef can plan out each day's prep work far enough in advance but change up the Menu enough to keep customers happy.

Fixed menus

Fixed menus have set items that never change - think Chinese food or a buffet. Fixed menus are good for customers who want to know what they're getting. It's easy for chefs because they can offer more variety and/or work on techniques.

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