Guests only spend more time looking at only three things than their menus – the table, their food, and each other. In fact, it’s surprising how few things consciously catch the attention of most guests in a restaurant. Restaurant owners have to take advantage of every chance to win over a guest. But very few pour the energy and strategy they should into creating menus.
It makes sense – nobody got into this business because they’re passionate about the menus. Owners, managers, and chefs are passionate about food, hospitality, numbers, the building, or some other facet of the business. I’ve seen it time and again – the business plan that prioritizes doing what an operator does best, without considering the guest’s perspective strongly enough.
But menus are a part of the face of your business. So, take some time to replace those dog-eared, laminated menus or re-print new menu inserts. Follow a few important concepts while you’re at it.
Print Them Yourself
Menus printed on card stock from actual in-house printers have a more personal, hand-crafted feel, and let you make changes to them on-the-fly. Buying menu booklets that hold printed menus are a classy touch, but aren’t necessary. Printed card stock menus also let you personalize them for guests, advertise daily specials, or type a note for a special occasion.
However you advertise your menu items, avoid doing so on laminated, oversized paper. These get trashed quickly, have to be wiped down regularly, and have a ‘50s diner feel. Creating menus in-house implies the special touch you hope to convey throughout the experience.
Make sure your menu looks like something that could only be found at your restaurant. This means incorporating your logo on every page, using a font that can be found in your logo or building, and sticking with the business’s theme.
Menus should also highlight signature items – the ones your guests travel from all over to enjoy. The signature items have to be reflection of your best work, or the entrée you’re proudest of. It should also be something that can only (or almost only) be found at your restaurant.
Emphasize Item Placement
Item placement on a menu is overlooked by far too many restaurants. Studies suggest that people’s eyes will gravitate to the top and bottom items on any systematic list. This is where top sellers and high margin items should be located. Servers should be prepared to describe these items with mouth-watering detail.
Also, the right side of the menu is a great location for top sellers. People’s eyes gravitate upward and to the right most of the time (just ask newspaper editors). A circle or box to highlight a group of top sellers is also a great way to grab the guest’s attention.
Get Rid of the Pictures
If your menu has pictures, you should either be working at T.G.I. Fridays, a Chinese restaurant, or in the 1980s. Pictures have too many pitfalls – they’re hard to get right, they fade, and they don’t always look appetizing. Guests who want to see the food should be able to look around the dining room to see it.
Pictures on menus are like polka dots on a tie – they don’t work anymore. They also take up space, and menus should be as compact as possible.
Get Rid of the ‘$’ Signs
Believe it or not, people know the unit of currency that will be demanded as compensation for products and services rendered. Adding dollar signs simply reinforces the notion that the experience could be costly.
Instead, prices should be placed just after the item description, instead of following a long ellipsis and placed at the right margin. While the menu-maker’s at it, it’s probably time to eliminate prices ending in .95 or .99, which is a sales trick that has lost its punch.
Use Menu Inserts
Menu inserts advertising specials tell guests that something special/unique is happening today. The kitchen is an organic, evolving machine, seeking out new proteins and recipes. They also convey the sense that the features items are the best of what the restaurant has to offer. When combined with a well-trained staff, they can be a powerful tool.
Whether we all want to or not, we communicate with our guests on a daily basis. Daily specials let the manager communicate verbally. They should be articulate and aesthetically pleasing. A little theme-based font, card stock paper, and Microsoft Publisher are all anyone needs to make killer inserts.
Train Your Servers to Complement the Menu
While servers who compliment and complement the menu are both important, a well-trained staff who knows what to sell is the best merchandising tool money can buy. Servers should emphasize the items you’ve placed prominently on the menu and be able to describe why they’re great.
Servers who know what the restaurant needs to be selling are a great complementary tool for a well-designed menu. For most guests, a server who repeats what the menu is already saying can be impossible to ignore.