The menu is not just a sheet of information. A well-designed menu is a marketing and merchandising tool, and it will help you sell your product, create an atmosphere, improve the perceived value of your restaurant and bring more customers back. In order for the menu to be successful, it must have the following two qualities:
A menu will be enticing if it follows the general guidelines of menu design and utilizes proper descriptive writing and clever merchandising techniques.
A truthful menu avoids misleading the customer. This means that the menu design matches the restaurant’s concept, and all product descriptions and pictures are accurate. Never stretch the truth in your menu. Successful branding cannot occur if the customers do not get what they expect.
Writing the Menu
All of the copy in your menu should be truthful, well-written and grammatically correct. Copy should be written for the following:
The introduction to your menu could say a little about the history of your business, the atmosphere you hope to achieve, the type of food being offered and a bit about your restaurant’s concept. Any “story” you can associate with your restaurant will add a more personal touch to the overall customer experience.
Naming the dishes.
For the purpose of branding, you should use enticing and unique titles for your dishes. For example, instead of calling a dish “Vegetable Lasagna,” you could call it “Four Cheese Lasagna with Fresh Broccoli and Wild Mushrooms.” Sometimes, even adding one word to the title can make an item seem more appealing. Instead of “Chicken Enchiladas,” you could call that item “Chipotle Chicken Enchiladas,” which is more unique and sounds more appetizing.
Describing the dishes.
Every dish should be truthfully described, so customers know what to expect. When you write copy for your descriptions, use colorful, enticing and exotic-sounding words. Also, make sure to translate anything not in English, even in an ethnic restaurant.
Make sure all of your category headings are well thought-out. For example, you may want to create a special heading for soups and salads, rather than putting them in the “appetizer” or “main course section,” since some people will eat soups and salads before meals while others may consider them a main course. Also be sure that you include your business’s name, address and phone number somewhere on the menu. If you have a restaurant website, list the web address on the menu.
Always proof your menu before printing. You should make sure all writing sounds professional, and never let a grammar, spelling or punctuation error slide.
Interior Layout and Design
You can always employ a third party to create your menu, but if you or someone you know has an eye for design, laying out the menu yourself can save you a lot of money. Feel free to be creative with the layout of your menu, but make sure the final design is aesthetically pleasing and easy to understand. If the menu is so crowded or complicated that it confuses customers, your sales will suffer. As you design the inside of the menu, follow these general rules:
Match the design to your concept.
As with all aspects of menu design, the colors, fonts, logos and graphics should all match the creative platform of your restaurant. For a more fun and casual concept, consider using a playful font, bright colors, and festive graphics. For a more elegant look, keep the color scheme and font simple, and consider leaving out the graphics and utilizing more white space to achieve a more sophisticated appearance.
Arrange menu items strategically.
In general, the menu items should be arranged in the order of the dining experience, beginning with appetizers and ending with desserts. Sides and beverages can go near the end, since customers know to look for them there. You should also make your most profitable items especially prominent on the page. You can do this by putting your profitable sellers at the beginning and end of categories, where customers eyes are naturally drawn. You could also use a frame, picture, or small symbol, like a star, to highlight “new” or “special” menu items to draw attention to them.
Choose graphics carefully.
If you are going to show pictures of your food, make sure you have quality photographs. In your food photography, the food should look appetizing, but do not try to deceive the customer. If the real food arrives and the quality or quantity does not resemble the picture, the customer might be upset. To be safe, you may want to keep your menu clear of food photography, but if you do, make sure the descriptions of your menu items are detailed enough to be enticing on their own.
Do not crowd the menu.
Be careful not to clutter your menu with words and pictures. About half of the menu should be empty space. That way, the menu will look nicer, and customers will be able to clearly see all of the items offered. Generally, you should use only one column in your menu to keep it simple. If you want your menu to be more aesthetically playful, you can use two or three columns, but be sure not to crowd the space. Balancing the “stuff” on your menu with space will help you sell more. After they order, customers are more likely to remember the menu if the design is balanced and uncluttered.
Include menu inserts.
Instead of constantly updating your menu to include specials and promotions, consider including inserts. It does not have to be fancy, and can simply be a white sheet of printed paper listing the seasonal, weekly or daily specials, or it can be a small advertisement for an upcoming event or promotion.
There are numerous options available for designing your menu cover. You should consider your restaurant’s concept and creative platform in order to make decisions about the following:
You can use generic menu covers, or a generic menu holder to hold your own printed cover. Otherwise, you could use a paper cover, or get the paper laminated. Whenever possible, go with a menu holder or create your menu from scratch, since it is better for branding purposes to have a unique menu cover rather than a generic cover.
The menu should not be unwieldy. It should be small enough to be easy to hold and move around, but large enough to look prominent, make an impression and be easily legible. You should also make sure that the menu is not too long. Better to limit your menu options than to have a menu with so many pages that it requires a bookmark.
Most restaurants go for the traditional rectangular book-style menu, but you could also try to work with a folding menu, which unfolds like a pamphlet, or even a square menu. If you have a fun or wild concept, you could also experiment with unusual menu shapes. Although a unique shape will increase the expense, some restaurants have gone so far as to have menus shaped like cars or animals.
Thickness and texture.
The feel of the cover is an important factor, and it should match your concept. A thick, laminated cover is more casual and lasts longer, while a thin, paper cover creates a more elegant affect, but is more easily damaged. Generic menu holders will protect a paper cover and usually work well with any concept.
Ideally, the design on the menu cover should match your restaurant’s creative platform. A restaurant that hopes to make an impression of elegance should keep it plain and use smaller text for a simple, sophisticated look. A casual restaurant can be a little more playful with the cover design. The colors on the cover should reflect the concept, atmosphere and interior design of the restaurant. For example, an Italian restaurant might use a red, green and white cover, while a Mexican restaurant can choose bolder warm colors. Here are some other things you could consider putting on the cover:
- Food photography
- Restaurant logo » Learn More
- Artwork or collages
Remember, the menu cover is like a mini poster or billboard. You may want to redesign your cover more often than the rest of your menu, since it is one of the first things customers see. For example, some restaurants might redesign their menu cover every season to better match their seasonal designs or specials. If you want to redesign your cover this often, make sure to use a menu holder so that your cover is interchangeable.
When to Redesign the Menu
Any time you think your menu is not as effective as it could be, it is time to redesign. The large majority of restaurant menus need to be revised frequently to keep up with changes in the restaurant and the market. When deciding whether or not to redesign, you should consider the following:
You should periodically change or revise your menu to adapt to the changes in demographics. If you notice that the neighborhoods in your trading area are undergoing an economic or cultural shift, you may want to change your menu to accommodate new prices, food trends and design styles. » Learn More
Always make sure your menu is up-to-date with your restaurant’s concept. If your concept changes, so should your menu. For example, if you decide to shift your concept from a comfortable casual diner to a more playful and fun one, your menu should include more bright colors and creative designs to reflect the change.
Be sure your menu matches your entire design concept, including the decorations at your restaurant and any signs, posters, table tents, take-out materials and advertisements. A consistent design concept is one of the keys to successful branding.
Menu items and pricing.
Any time your menu offerings or prices change, you need to reprint your menu. Never use a pen or marker to update menu pricing or to add or remove menu items, because it looks unprofessional. If your menu changes a lot, then you should use menu holders so that you can easily reprint and switch out each page.
Daily and personalized menus.
Some high-end establishments will print a new menu every day, or even print personalized menus for loyal customers with reservations. Printing daily menus will give patrons a reason to return, since they know there will be new menu offerings. A personalized menu is a great way to reward your best customers and make them feel special.
Before you start redesigning your menu, do some field research by evaluating the restaurant competition. Compare their menu to yours, and ask yourself how it differs in size, shape, menu items, copy and design. Once you have performed a comparison, you can decide how to improve your menu so that it will be better than what the competition offers. » Learn More
Depending on your restaurant, you may need to create multiple menus or a few special menus to supplement the main menu. For example, if you have a take-out or carry-out business, make sure to print a cheap, paper take-out version of the menu. If you have separate lunch and dinner menus, you could consider printing out a separate menu for lunch. Here are just a few types of menus to consider:
- Kids’ menus » Learn More
- Time-specific menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner
- Cycle menus, like separate menus for each day of the week
- Drink menus
- Happy Hour menus » Learn More
- Dessert menus
- A la carte menus
- Downtime menus with lower prices or limited options
- Take-out and delivery menu » Learn More
- Catering menu
- Personalized menus
Printing and Showcasing the Menu
Instead of providing customers with a sheet menu or book-style menu at the table, quick-service restaurants and some full-service restaurants should consider using a menu board. It is cheaper and makes it easier to change out menu items and prices. You could even use a big chalkboard as your menu or to showcase your specials. Just find someone with a good eye and good handwriting to make sure it is not messy.
You can save money by purchasing menu holders and printing the menu pages and color yourself. However, unless you have a quality color printer, professionally printed pages will have better resolution. If you do not want to use generic menu holders, you could also have your menus professionally laminated to protect them from spills and dirty hands.
If you do take-out, display the take-out menu near the door or the point of sale so customers can take one when they leave. Promotions and special menus, like drink and dessert menus, can be showcased at the table with table tents, displayettes or card and sign holders.
Great food and service are important, but it is difficult to sell even the most quality of products without skillful merchandising. Your menu is your restaurant’s way of displaying what you have to offer, and if it is well designed and well written, you will sell more and make your customers happy.
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