The Chef’s Guide To Recipe Development And Menu Planning

Struggling with recipe development and menu planning? This definitive guide reveals professional secrets to creating cost-effective recipes and, structured menus. Written by a chef for chefs.

As a chef with over 20 years of experience running restaurant kitchens, I’ve learned that thoughtful recipe development and menu planning are absolutely crucial to our success. There’s much more that goes into crafting a menu than just deciding what food to serve. A menu is like a chef’s resume.

Building an effective appealing menu requires strategic thinking and creativity. Also an understanding of budgets, kitchen capacity, and most importantly your target market.


In this blog post, I’ll share my process for recipe development and menu planning to help other chefs or restaurateurs craft menus that truly deliver. Written by a chef for chefs.


  • Development — The menu development process should begin with a focus on creating crave-able, innovative dishes. That aligns with your restaurant’s overall concept and brand identity.
  • Expenses — One of the most important steps when designing a menu is cost. Factors to account for are food and labor costs. These will dictate your sale price. You need to know your numbers.
  • Recipes — The level of recipe difficulty and plating design needs to fit within the capabilities of your kitchen staff. While also accommodating any kitchen equipment constraints.
  • Design — The menu design essentially serves as a first impression of your restaurant’s offerings and vibe. So your choice of words to relay each dish should be enticing and exciting. Plus, the menu’s visual appeal and design are just as important.
Recipe Development And Menu Planning


Steps For Recipe Development And Menu Planning

The menu is the backbone of any successful restaurant, café, or culinary business. Your menu conveys your brand story, shapes the guest experience, and guides your operations and inventory needs. It ultimately determines the success and profitability of your establishment.

With so much hinging on the menu. Every restaurateur/chef must follow a thoughtful process when developing, testing, and structuring their offerings. Rushing through recipe development and menu planning often leads to an imbalanced lineup. Littered with poor flow, pricing errors, and operational issues.

Establishing an intentional, detailed development framework is the only way to build a cohesive menu that delights customers.

I aim to do four menu changeouts a year. We will roll with the seasons, keeping the menu fresh, seasonal, and modern. Once one menu is implemented, I start planning the next. The process never stops, restaurant dishes evolve, and menus change with the seasons.

Recipe Development

Before I even think about the overall menu. Developing new recipe ideas and perfecting our dishes is my first priority. This process starts with inspiration from many sources.

Dining at other well-established restaurants, and browsing food blogs and magazines. Watching cooking shows, and experimenting with ingredients and techniques. I keep a running list of recipe concepts I want to try in my notebook.

My Recipe Book Of Ideas
My Recipe Book Of Ideas

Testing Newly Created Recipes

When developing and testing recipes. I focus on using a mix of seasonal mainstream and artisan ingredients that capture the essence and flavors of each dish. I’ll prepare the recipe multiple times, adjusting seasoning, herbs, or spices, cooking times, and methods. Until I’ve nailed down the optimal version. I pay close attention to details like texture, color, and presentation too.

Once I feel the recipe is refined enough for service. I’ll have my kitchen team prepare it as well. So we all understand the methodology and can achieve consistency. After this, it gets a test run on our feature menu. If it is well received by the customers it will go on the next menu changeout.

Chefs Pro Tip — An excellent way to test the customer’s appetite for a new dish. I stick it on our feature menu for 4-5 days. The feature menu sits outside the main restaurant menu and is my way of testing new dishes.

If they don’t work they come off and get reworked or just forgotten about. If they are a success they will be added to the next menu changeout.


My Menu Planning Principles

With the amazing array of recipes that made it past my kitchen team and the restaurant’s feature menu. I’m ready to blueprint the overall menu. Some key principles I keep in mind throughout this process.

  • Customer Demographic — Understand your target customers’ preferences and demographics like age, income level, etc. A menu for college students will vastly differ from one for affluent retirees, for example.
  • Concept And Theme — Build a cohesive menu that supports your restaurant’s concept and theme. A seafood restaurant menu will move towards a seafood focus. While a steakhouse will feature different steak and beef dishes.
  • Kitchen Capabilities — Keep the menu within the practical production capabilities of the kitchen size, equipment, and staff training level. This will work to achieve consistency and avoid bottlenecks.

A Wise Chef Once Told Me — If you’re going to cook average food, make sure you cook average food every service. However, once you start cooking good food, you better be cooking good food everyday. And when you’re cooking excellent food you need to cook excellent food all the time. What he was trying to tell me is no matter what level of food you’re cooking you need to be consistent!

We all know of busy restaurants, or cafes that service average food. This is because their customer base knows what they are getting. Good, bad, or ugly it needs to be consistent. Recipe development and menu planning help towards being consistent.

Disclaimer — I’m not saying go out and serve average food. What I’m saying is to make sure you’re consistent!

  • Food Costs — Factor in ingredient costs and accurate food costs for each dish. I try and shoot for a total food cost percentage of between 22-25% of the menu price.
  • Variety — Craft a menu with an intentional mix of proteins, vegetables, and cooking techniques. Also think about prices, appetizers, lighter fare, comfort foods, and premium dishes. Provide options.
  • Seasonality — Tailor the menu to seasonal ingredients for freshness and budget. Some dishes only make sense in certain seasons. Don’t go using fresh asparagus in the middle of winter.
  • Balance And Flow — Create a menu with balanced flavors, textures, and courses that flow logically from apps to entrées, and on to desserts.
  • Uniqueness — Include signature dishes diners can’t get anywhere else to build your reputation.
  •  Simplicity — Resist the urge to overcomplicate the menu. Keep the wording simple and the dishes approachable.

Your Menu Structure

When organizing the menu, I structure it thoughtfully into clear sections that guide diners seamlessly from start to finish. This is why recipe development and menu planning is so essential.

I Always List Dishes In Order Of 3 Categories.

  1. Stars — (Low food cost, high profitability, and popularity). Dishes that customers order often and make me money.
  2. Plow Horses — (Average food cost and profitability, that are popular). Dishes that customers order often and I break even.
  3. Dogs — (High food cost and low profitability, that are not popular). Dishes that customers don’t order very often and cost me money when prepared.


A Typical Menu Structure Could Look Like This

  • Appetizers — Smaller shared plates, soups, salads, and small meals.
  • Mains — Larger entrees, steaks, chicken, seafood, and farinaceous dishes.
  • Sides — A la carte sides, vegetables, side salads, grains, and starches.
  • Desserts — Cheesecakes, mousse, brulee, cakes, cold set desserts, or hot desserts.

Within each section, we’ll organize related dishes together and price items gradually from stars, plow horses, to dogs. Well-crafted menus have a natural flow that entices customers to order multiple courses and spend more. This is why recipe development and menu planning is so important.

Purple Asparagus Recipe
Easy Seared Salmon With Vegetables
Rump Steak Salad With Roasted Vegetables
My Signature Lemon Baked Cheesecake Recipe

Pricing Strategy

Recipe development and menu planning are key to determining pricing. This is one of the trickiest aspects of menu planning. I take several factors into account when pricing dishes.

Food Costs

  • Ingredient prices plus approx. 75-78% markup for profit margin.
  • You want to achieve a food cost of 22%. Cost of ingredients is $5.04. (7.04/.22)=22.90.
  • Your rounded-up sale price would be $22.95.
  • If you need to add VAT or GST. To add 15% GST (22.90*1.15)=26.34. Your rounded-up sale price would be $26.50 or $26.95.


Labor Costs

Consider the labor. Prep time for each dish. Complexity to plate each dish, keep it simple and visually appealing.

Competitor Pricing And Anchoring

Price comparably to similar local restaurants. You don’t want to be too low and lose money. Or too high and price yourself out of the market. Include higher priced items to make other dishes seem like a better value.

Psychological Impacts And Customer Perceptions

Odd number prices like $9.95 or $19.50 seem lower than even numbers. Price according to the perceived value of the dish in diners’ eyes.


Getting Valuable Feedback

Once I’ve developed a draft menu. I get input from staff, servers, and other industry chefs. This is invaluable before finalizing it. I will do a staff tasting where the kitchen will cook all the new dishes and present them to the staff to sample and taste.

I’ll ask questions like Does the menu seem cohesive? Are any items confusing or out of place? Are there any glaring omissions or dishes you’d expect to see? Their constructive feedback helps me identify any missing elements. This gives me time to refine the menu before moving forward.

Executing A New Menu

When ready to implement a new menu, careful recipe development and menu planning, along with communication make for a smooth roll-out. I verified that we had all the necessary ingredients and supplies stocked. My sous chefs thoroughly train staff on the new recipes and standards of execution.

We may run specials or do limited test runs first to work out any kinks before the full public launch. Effective menus must evolve over time as customer preferences change. So I view menu launches as an ongoing process, not a single event.

Cooking Is A Science And A Skill

Cooking is a science and a skill that requires a deep understanding of both the technical and creative aspects. Cooking is also a matter of precise measurements and ratios.

For example, baking is particularly sensitive to accurate measurements and temperatures. A slight deviation in the amount of an ingredient or cooking degrees can result in a completely different outcome. So, to help you here is a handy little unit converter tool for cooking without guesswork.

  1. Where Do You Find Inspiration For New Recipes?

    I find inspiration from dining at popular influential restaurants, reading cookbooks, food magazines, online recipe sites, and seasonal ingredients. Even my family’s favorite flavors, and sometimes just experimenting with different ingredients in the kitchen.

  2. What Are Some Tips For Balancing Flavors In A Dish?

    Season incrementally, taste often, and use acidity and sweetness to balance strong rich flavors. Ensure there is a mix of flavors and textures, and adjust saltiness and spiciness to taste.

    Season Incrementally And Taste Often — Don’t be afraid to adjust seasonings like salt, pepper, herbs, and spices as you cook. Tasting as you go helps you better calibrate flavors.

    Use Acidity To Balance Richer, Heavier Flavors — A squeeze of lemon or splash of vinegar brightens flavors. Acid cuts through fat and balances out rich flavors.

    Add A Touch Of Sweetness To Round Out Acidity Or Spiciness — A bit of honey, maple syrup, sugar, or fruit sauce. This balances out tart, sour, or spicy flavors.

    Include A Mix Of Contrasting Flavors And Textures — Crunchy, creamy, crispy – play with different sensations to keep things interesting.

    Adjust Saltiness And Spiciness To Taste — Cater to your own preferences or your expected audience. You can always add more seasoning later.

  3. How Do You Determine The Proper Ingredient Amounts When Developing A Recipe?

    When I’m in the recipe development and menu planning stage. I start with a small test batch using my experienced best estimates. Then adjust the amounts as needed through a couple of rounds of testing and tasting. Until I land on the perfect proportions.

Final Thoughts

The menu is the focal point defining any restaurant. By putting care into planning balanced, cohesive menus tailored specifically to our restaurant’s concept and clientele. We can provide amazing dining experiences that keep guests coming back.

While the process takes significant work and trial and error upfront, the rewards of building an exceptional menu make the effort more than worthwhile.

Struggling with recipe development and menu planning? This definitive chef’s guide reveals professional secrets. To assist you in creating cost-effective recipes and, structuring exceptional menus. Recipe development and menu planning are important steps in supporting a successful restaurant.