Hungry for Answers
Research proves that consumers looking online for a place to eat or drink are also looking for your menu. It’s next on their “want to know now” checklist, just after where you’re located. So tell them what you serve! Let’s look at best practices for menus on the Web.
Be sure your menu is optimized for smartphones. And that means moving away from the PDF format. It’s no longer in favour even for desktop websites, as that one extra step to view is too much for most customers. Even so, the chain Montana’s BBQ & Bar relies on in-site menus plus printable PDFs for five separate categories—including take-out. And they’re each loaded with photos and hard-sell statements. The caveat for all? “Prices may vary by location.”
Speaking of price, some experts say not to bother for online menus; simply indicate a range. The rationale: avoiding awkwardness if prices change in-house and the site hasn’t caught up. The Moxie’s Grill & Bar chain follows that rule of thumb. That said, other popular chains such as Milestones do include prices. But you’ll just see a number for each menu item, with no dollar sign (e.g., “6”). Kelsey’s hits the price appeal hard: “Dinner for 2 for $50” and “Daily Drink Dealz” are first up on the website menu board. St-Hubert will talk cost if you jump through a few hoops— such as indicating your desired location and hitting several “show price” buttons. Note that review sites such as Yelp assign dollar signs to indicate your price point. The lowest is one $; the highest is four.
Mouth-watering photos help clinch the deal. Tim Hortons and Swiss Chalet are the gold standards here. Click “Menu” on the Tim’s site to pull up easy-to-navigate categories such as Coffee, Sandwiches and Hot Bowls, and Snacks and Baked Goods. There’s a small but attractive image of each item in each category, plus a tempting sentence or two. It’s pretty much the same story for the Chalet. Should you follow the leaders? Most independents use just a few highquality images to give a professional halo to the website and the menu. That’s certainly a less expensive option. Don’t rely on customer photos on social media to accurately portray the beauty of your menu items.
The Burger’s Priest chain puts theirs on the website, viewable if you answer a “skill testing question.”
Consider the ways you organize your offerings, as well. Straightforward names such as Burgers, Pastas and Desserts always make sense. Some venues take categorizing a step further, with titles such as “On Bread” for sandwiches and “Sweet Endings” for the cake and pie options. Also seen: strategies like “Share” at Moxie’s, and “Keg Classics” at The Keg Steakhouse. What are the right words to make your menu more fun (or elegant)?
Draw ‘Em In
Independents and chains alike are also using illustrations to supplement the glamour shots of food and drink. For a great example, pop onto the East Side Mario’s site and check out the tricycle that accompanies “Mini Marios” and the clock that takes you to the Lunch options. Something similar might work for you.
The venerable Smitty’s chain puts a 10-page menu on their website to click through. There is a trend toward smaller menus, and some research is trying to pinpoint the optimum number of items. In the fast-food world, consumers preferred six items per category (starters, chicken dishes, fish, vegetarian and pasta dishes, grills and classic meat dishes, steaks and burgers, desserts). As for fine dining, people wanted seven starters and desserts, and 10 main courses. A manageable number of choices applies especially to online menus—think smartphone-size screens.
Let's Eat Icons
Symbols flag all kinds of advantages for customers.
Healthier: Gluten-free/friendly, low-calorie, vegetarian/vegan
New/signature: Many chains use their logo here
Low salt/sodium: Usually defined as “no salt added”
Most popular: e.g., star, ribbon, highlight