Have you ever gone to a restaurant, looked at the menu, and said, “Wow, this is just absolutely beautiful!”
I didn’t think so. But there’s also the other extreme where the menu doesn’t do anything for you at all. We recently delved into the dark and very confusing world of menu design engineering.
There’s a LOT more work involved than you’d ever imagine. And just like web design, it’s about half science and half art.
Let’s explore the steps it takes to create a menu that really sells your food.
You need to extract some numbers from your menu. Dig into your reports and figure out:
- The profitability of each item, on a scale of 1-4, with 4’s being the most profitable. You should have around 25% rated at 4, 25% rated at 3, and so on.
- The popularity of each item, using the same methodology as the profitability.
It also helps to just look at your successful competitors’ menus. You obviously can’t access the numbers behind them, but you can definitely get some ideas from them.
Now, you should take the data we just created to group the items on your menu. Check out The Menu Item Matrix, and use it to create four lists:
- Stars are profitable AND popular.
- Puzzles are profitable, but not popular
- Plowhorses are not profitable, but are popular.
- Dogs aren’t profitable OR popular.
Within the four lists, you should also separate the items into their types (i.e. appetizers, salads, entrees, etc.).
The best menus are the simplest ones. The more choices there are, the higher your costs will be. Also, you’ll have to work harder to steer your customers towards the star items.
This stage can be difficult for a restaurant owner. More variety seems like an asset, but it can cripple a restaurant when taken too far.
You’ll want to remove the dogs completely. It doesn’t make sense to clutter a menu with items that aren’t making you any money.
Now is the time to bring in your graphic designer and start sketching out the placement of the sections. Of course the first step in this process is decided what kind of menu you’re going for (i.e. booklet, folding, one page, etc.). Here’s some great tips from this article at nymag.com:
- The upper right-hand corner is the the hotspot that most diners’ eyes are drawn to first.
- An anchor is a ridiculously expensive plate that makes everything else around it look like a bargain.
- Keep your stars and puzzles near the anchor.
- Do NOT list your prices in a straight column. That leads to customers looking for the cheapest items.
- Boxes draw attention and usually orders.
- Use sizes to your advantage: if you don’t share the portion size, you’re more likely to trade up.
Now that you’ve got the dishes on the menu, it’s time to add some style. There’s three key factors here:
- Usability. We experience this all the time with websites: designers get carried away creating award-winning pieces of art that don’t perform their function. Don’t let your menu fall into that bucket. By far the most important consideration is that the text is readable.
- Branding. The menu is a great place to reinforce your brand. It’s critical that your menu have an emotional element to it. It should fit right in with your restaurant’s atmosphere.
- Versatility. Be sure that your designer gives you a version of your menu that can be used to print for to-go menus. It should be grayscale with no background images. You should be able to print it on a legal or letter size paper (front and back).
Printing menus can be expensive. So it’s important to get it right the first time. We recommend that (in addition to the proof-reading your designer should do), you have at least four different people in your organization proof it.
Little grammatical errors on your menu say a lot about your much effort you put into running your business.
Choose a printer that has experience. For example, most printers won’t consider the kind of laminate to use when producing a tabloid sized, scored menu. Yet it makes a HUGE difference (trust me, we’ve been there). Don’t skimp on price at this stage. You don’t want to have to reprint your menus, because it adds up.
What’s Your Take on Menus?
This is an area where there’s not too many specialists. If you’re a designer that has helped restaurants in this area, we’d love to hear what other tips you have for restaurant owners/managers, and if you run a restaurant, we’d love to hear your experiences going through the process.