“Your whole menu has to work in harmony like a symphony. If one little piece is off, it can drag down the entire menu. And that's VERY dangerous.”
The third video episode of the Manifesto Academy features the 8 important steps that you should master when creating the successful menu according to the American restauranteur Isaac Starobin.
Food cost under 30% explained
What you're looking to do, when you put together a new menu, is that every young chef learns about the 30% food cost. Meaning if you want to pay all of your fixed costs, all of your rent, your salaries, your taxes, and everything, you want to make sure that 30% of all the money you bring in, goes to pay for the ingredients. If you start paying more, you're gonna be in trouble. You're not gonna be able to pay all your other expenses. However, that's a bit of an oversimplification. What you really want is for your entire sales, mix your entire menu, when weighted by how much of each item you sell, to average out at about 30%, ideally a little bit lower.
And then you can have fun with stuff because it doesn't matter if this thing comes up to 45%. Right, I'm losing a little bit of money on it, because I have other stuff that comes up to 20%. And it's good to balance each other out.
Evolve your menu
You usually don't want to make a whole new menu, you want to slowly evolve the menu item by item. You want to do that based on sales. You want to be always looking at your sales mix, see what's selling, what's not. The things that are selling, if they're underperforming, profit-wise, you might want to change that around. If they're overperforming and profit is good, make people buy even more of that.
Get some feedback!
You want to ask your staff, what kind of feedback you've been getting. You want to check all your reviews on all the delivery platforms, especially because that's where people tend to leave the most involved reviews about the food itself, rather than getting distracted by all the auxiliary stuff. And you want to talk to your customers. But at the end of the day, customers don't really know what they want. Or they don't know what they want until they've already had it. So they might tell you that they want this and this and this. Customers will always tell you that they want healthier options, they'll always tell you that they want something with less fat and less salt and less sugar. And then they don't order it because it doesn't taste good.
Keep it balanced
If you take one menu item off, to put another one on, you have to make sure that it fills the hole in terms of type of food. If you take off the only pork item, you're gonna want to replace it with a pork item. If you take off the only vegetarian item, you must replace it with another vegetarian item, something like that. You want to make sure it ships within the price range of the hole that you've left with the item that you took off. And you want to make sure that it fits in the size, so appetizer, entree, dessert, some small finger food or something larger.
Seasonality and mise en place
Seasonality, making sure the new item fits with everything else. And then you gotta watch your mise en place. It's a French word, meaning everything in its place. And that's the concept of all the prepped ingredients, preps, products, sauces, baits, mixes, garnish is everything that sits where it needs to be, so that when it's busy, your hands know exactly where to go. So you gotta make sure that any new menu item that you put on won't affect the way that your mise en place is set up right now, too much.
Avoid orphan ingredients
The goal is that every single ingredient, every single item that you order, should have at least two uses in the kitchen. And this is not always true with fine dining. But at this level, you want to make sure that you don't have any orphan products in the store, nothing that's only used for one item.
The other part of that is keeping an eye on what I call recipe price. So it's easy to say, Oh yeah, inflation, you know, the price of goods is going up. But do you really know by how much? I use something called reciprocity. That's a food costing and inventory control system for restaurants. And it's got a feature that I really like which every time I input invoices from my suppliers, it sends me an email and alerts me if any product has gone up more than 5% in the past 30 days, or if any of my recipes now cost me more than 30% food cost based on the most recent invoices that I've entered. So I asked every other person in the restaurant business, are you using something to tell you when your ingredient prices have gone up? Or are you just hoping that you'll look at the invoice and be like oh yeah, I think that's more so I should probably reevaluate. My big advice is you have to have that systemized. Love systemized.
A lot of it is about consistency. Unfortunately, sometimes a very talented and experienced owner will build a stand at Manifesto, put a team in there, build a menu and then disappear. And things go downhill pretty quickly. It's not because the staff doesn't care, but it's because they get the feeling that the owner doesn't care. So why should they put the extra effort to be perfect? The less existential answer is. The concepts that are most successful are the ones where people can tell the story of the concepts in five words or less.
What is the next big thing?
I don't want to say it out loud, because I'm not sure if it's actually well, it's gonna happen. But I have no idea when we are working on plant based barbecue, I kind of hate myself for this. And I hear like 1000s of old Texas pitmasters rolling in their graves. But like we got to stay ahead. Part of it is that there is such a market for plant based food right now. And if we don't stay on top of it, we're gonna lose. Part of it is that I'm a father now. And I've started thinking a lot more about how the world we're leaving for our kids.
Interview conducted by Klara Olivova.