Menus for Success: How to Make Your Restaurant a Local Legend

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menuRunning a restaurant is a big undertaking, but the most important thing to focus on should always be the product you’re turning out; the delicious food. The food is what really makes the restaurant, and if you want proof of that, just look at those famous dingy little restaurants that get airtime on food and travel shows, and that people flock to like religious mosques all year round. Some of those hole-in-the-walls have created a legendary name for themselves with nothing more than a really good hot dog. Chances are, that they order their dogs from the same company you do. But here are some principals they follow that you might not be aware of:

Less is more. The most famous eateries have small menus. A few great items, perfectly prepared, are all you need. Your menu shouldn’t be trying to put the local taco joint, Italian bistro, family diner, and sushi bar out of business all at the same time. Menus cluttered with options confuse customers and put a strain on the kitchen. Having a “please-all” menu prevents your business from having a niche or identity, which is so vital for success.

Keep the ingredients simple. Some chefs try too hard to impress people with fancy food. A complicated dish of exotic ingredients is not only expensive to produce, but is often less appreciated than simple fresh ingredients. Most customers can’t distinguish foods like white asparagus in a blind taste test, so your menu can probably do without it. The quality of these high end ingredients is often lacking because they ship across the country, or even hemisphere, from where they’re from. Try to showcase local fresh ingredients because they are cheaper and will taste better. A simple potato, fried the right way, has made many restaurants legendary.

Own your food. Once something is on your menu, take full ownership of it. Just because a dish is classic doesn’t mean you can’t put your own special twist on it. Those personal touches are usually easy and inexpensive, but add uniqueness to the dish that makes it truly yours. For instance, a giant homemade crostini laid across a typical Caesar Salad could distinguish your salad from the other millions.


Stick to homemade. If you can make something in-house, then do it. Not only will it distinguish your food from everyone else’s, but a lot of times it’s actually cheaper to make your own dressings, breads, and desserts than to order them. Switching from frozen hamburger patties to homemade patties with your own seasoning, could be the difference between your restaurant being a 3am frat-boy diner and an eatery that goes down in local history.

The most successful food-stops are usually local landmarks. Make yours a landmark by emphasizing your connection with the local geography and culture. Get your fish from the nearest body of water and your vegetables from the closest farmer’s market. And who knows, maybe someday a Food Network star will be gorging themselves in your restaurant.

Last modified: February 14, 2013
Sasha Smith

This story is part of our Small Business Corner, a peek into the life and trials of small business owners.

Category: Insider's perspective, marketing, MPR Authored, Restaurants, sales, Small Business, Small Business Corner, small business owners, Tips

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