How to Create a Bistro Menu

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The bistro experience is about local, fresh food. The menu you create should reflect this.
The bistro experience is about local, fresh food. The menu you create should reflect this. (Image: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

The concept of the bistro evolved in Paris in the 1800s as a bar rather than a restaurant. Later, the concept evolved to include food. In North America, the concept of the bistro can mean anything from an upscale full-service restaurant to a small café. The original meaning of a bistro as it is envisioned in Europe, however, is a small restaurant with simple food based on seasonal, fresh ingredients. (see References 1) If you want to re-create the original bistro experience, you must focus on your signature dishes and feature local ingredients.

Things You'll Need

  • Computer with word processing software
  • Calculator

Create a plan or a theme for your bistro that fits with the type of food that you or your chef can cook. Your theme, or hook, should be different from other area restaurants but not so outlandish that local customers won't come.

For example, a theme for a restaurant in Galveston, Texas might be down-home Texas food. If this was your theme, both your décor and menu should reflect the idea of Texas comfort food.

List the main dishes that you or your chef can create that fit that theme; your list should contain no more than 12 items or the menu will be too difficult to prepare. You can create this list on a computer with word processing software.

If your theme was Texas comfort food, for example, you would need to include a few staple dishes from Texas that are inexpensive, easy to make and popular (e.g. barbecue brisket and Frito pie). Pay special attention to cost; bistro food should not cost you or the customer a lot and it should keep well so that many items, like the brisket, don't have to be cooked to order.

List appetizers and side items that you can create with seasonal, fresh ingredients.

For example, tomatoes and chili peppers are staple crops in the summer into late fall if your restaurant is in Texas, so chips and salsa or a stuffed jalapeño starter are easy to prepare in large quantities. A spinach salad would be another summer side dish. In the fall, drinks or desserts featuring West Texas pomegranates would make an inexpensive, fresh menu item.

Determine the prices on the menu. Begin by investigating local sources and gathering price and availability information about each of your ingredients. For items that you cannot purchase locally, find the price information from restaurant distributors that deliver in your area.

A general rule of thumb is that the menu item should be marked up at least 300 percent from its original cost to account for labor, restaurant overhead and waste. Use a calculator to determine an appropriate price that will cover your costs and allow you to be profitable, yet will not be out of line with what similar restaurants charge in your area.

Design the menu. Consider hiring a graphic designer to design the look of the menu as well as a food writer or a technical writer who specializes in the restaurant industry to create the item descriptions.

When the menus are finished, take them to the local copy shop and have them printed and laminated or coated to protect them from spills.

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