Cost effective menus for cafes


12 mins read

Matt shares his process on how to create a labour saving, cost-effective menu for cafés.

For me, the menu should be the blueprint for the operation of your café or restaurant. It is a delicate balance of old favourites and new and inspired dishes and needs to be easily produced in the kitchen and fit the skill level of your culinary team, but most importantly it forms the basis for your food and labour costs and ultimately your profit base.

So it is really important not to rush the process and invest time and energy into getting it right.

I start by asking myself some straightforward questions: What does it cost to open the doors every day? What are my labour costs? What profit margin do we need to make and what does my food cost need to be?  

I know my food cost as well as I know my lovely wife... and even though it involves a lot of work I cost out every recipe. I use a web-based recipe and menu management tool like Menu Coster, as it is easy and saves me time. This helps me establish what my core ingredients are going 

to be and I prioritise these ingredients when negotiating pricing with my suppliers.

Keeping the menu small, helps me eliminate waste and reduces the ingredients count. 

I look for good quality, cost-effective ingredients that can be used in multiple dishes across the menu and still deliver a high gross margin.  For example, the humble sweet potato can be used as a base ingredient from roasted sweet potato from the dinner menu used as a base for sweet potato breakfast waffles or a smoked fish hash cake on the lunch menu or use the crispy fried skins as a side with local spices and topped with smoked Havarti and sour cream.

Monitor leftovers from production in other areas in the café that can be re-used...

Leftover milk from making coffee can be safely stored and re-used in sauces or baking, coffee grounds can be used as a seasoning rub for meats or added to a chocolate brownie for a delicious mocha treat.

Look at using one amazing ingredient as hero in a dish...

For example Kāpiti Kikorangi in a tart with an amazing local salad. Look for great local ingredients as a point of difference and change these with the season, as in-season produce will always cost less. The focus on increasing immunity is a key trend to tap into, so include ingredients with proven immunity-boosting properties such as yoghurt, citrus, garlic, ginger and papaya.

Most importantly – the menu must be interesting not only for the customer but also for the chef preparing the dishes.

It gives me great pleasure to observe my customers enjoying our café offering. It is equally important to have harmony in the kitchen, there is no greater pleasure than watching my staff utilising their skills and enjoying the process.   

The biggest casualty in this difficult time is motivated and skilled staff so it is more important than ever to ensure that you make informed selections.

A skilled chef will cost you more per hour but will save you more in the long run as they will work faster, produce less waste and require less supervision, leaving you time to work on your restaurant/café, rather then in it. Invest time to train your staff, it may seem obvious, but too many owner/operators underestimate the value of investing in your people.

My best wishes go out to our tight-knit community of food professionals – We will make it through this by working together.

To access the web-based tool referenced in this article please contact:

or head to

Matt Farley

Over a career spanning 30 years, Matt has perfected his skills as a chef in hotels, fine dining restaurants, cafés and banqueting.  

For the last 9 years, he has played an integral part in the catering and eventing operations at AUT university in Auckland.  

As group executive chef, Matt looks after the culinary operations for 7 cafés, the banqueting facilities for 3 campuses and the Millenium High-Performance Centre.  

At heart, what gets him out of bed in the morning is the enjoyment of entertaining his customers with inventive and appealing dishes.  

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