109 seconds. That’s how long most people will take to read your menu. Does it tell customers what they want to know? Is it attractive enough to hang outside the door? Give this selling tool all the attention it deserves.
Looks & $
Experts are continually studying menu design, also called menu
engineering or menu psychology. One piece of advice: don’t use dollar signs. Another, avoid ending prices in “.99” unless you want items to have an “on sale” appeal—.“95” is better. Most venues will see success with formats like “12.00” or “12”. High-end venues can get away with “12 dollars” or “Twelve dollars”. Prices should be listed last, and not highlighted in any way. Finally, because most diners end up ordering from the middle range, starting each list with an expensive item (or otherwise showcasing a few) makes the rest seem like a good deal.
Last tip: Avoid having prices line up in columns.
What Goes Where?
Newspapers were studied endlessly to make them more appealing, and menu design follows much of the same formatting rationale. The most important, most profitable items (or specials) go at the top right of Page 1, where people tend to look first. New research points out that top left is another area of interest, like reading a book. Highlight profit-makers with boxes, coloured type, more white space. Again, you have many options that do the trick. Also effective, depending on your concept: one or two high-quality photos, but they must be beautifully arranged and shot. Another strategy is using a few icons or illustrations to direct attention . Examples? Apple and cinnamon stick for apple pie, or a chili pepper for anything spicy like ribs.
If you offer specialty items such as gluten-free, heart-healthy, vegetarian or vegan, most venues put these in a separate section.
Colour Your Words
Even a few descriptive words or phrases can increase check averages. Think “slow cooked,” “farm fresh” and “our own recipe.” Sometimes a carefully chosen name paints the picture: Hand-Cut Steak, Seared. Research shows diners are also drawn to “family” dishes, named for Grandma or Grandmere, for example. And even the most commonly used categories can get creative. Like “On Bread” to indicate sandwiches.
As for colour: hospitality educators teach that red and blue on the menu stimulate appetite, while grey and purple signal “you’re full.” With digital printing, you could even test a few designs to help find what works best for your concept. Sticking with just a few hues is usually best. What’s more, there are creative ways to tie menu graphics to your logo, even the ambience of your eating area—perhaps consult a professional here.
The typography is also important, both to represent your brand and be readable by your customers. Black on white type is most legible, so think about font and background colours if you cater to senior citizens. Size of type obviously makes a difference, too, in whether patrons pull out the reading glasses. Oh, and please don’t capitalize EVERYTHING: Using all caps is OK once in a while.
Review online templates for ideas, or even hire someone to create your menu for you. If you go this route, be sure: Do you own the menu or does the company? Also get the low-down on fees (monthly? yearly? both?), how many revisions are included to get to your final design, and how often you can update or change your menu and at what cost. Look for choices in paper stock and number of pages; check for extra charges here, too.
Misspelled words. Scratched-out prices or items. Frayed edges. Spots and stains. Sticky plastic covers. Don’t think these won’t be noticed—or won’t matter to your overall impression. Just like scrupulously clean floors, seats and tables, your menu reflects both your professionalism and what’s going on back in the kitchen.
Something for everyone or an overwhelming array of underwhelming dishes… Casual restaurant chains such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden are working to avoid the latter by paring their large menus. Part of the rationale is that a tighter list of offerings also speeds up service. For sure, it helps make inventory easier and could help kitchen staff keep up with orders when the rush is on. The culinary school rule for an optimal menu: 10 apps (at least one vegetarian), 10 mains (at least one vegetarian), 6 desserts. So fewer dishes, fewer pages, could result in more money in your pocket.
Another trick, in case you have the opposite problem: increasing the menu size while cutting the food inventory in half. Could you do the same, and list dishes that start with many of the same basic ingredients to build sandwiches, soups, entrées and appetizers?
Electronic menu boards are hip. And not just for counter service or drive-throughs; they are dining-room decor. Some of the hippest feature a social media feed showcasing customer comments, photos or video, or incorporate TV shows or house-produced video.