Although you may think your food is innovative and delicious, if it’s not presented to your customers in the best possible way– via the most well-constructed menu – you won’t successfully sell your culinary creations. Your menu is the conduit through which your restaurant guests can survey your offerings. Whether old customers keep returning to their tried-and-true favorites, or experiment with some of your new dishes, it is all a function of how successfully you’re using your restaurant’s menu as a sales tool.
Virtually every person who comes in your front door will interact with your menu. Your restaurant menu is guaranteed advertising. Pay special attention to the length and quality of your online and in-house menu descriptions. Restaurant menus can subtly persuade your customers to order more and, or higher-priced food. Use your menu as the prime advertising piece it is.
Your Menu’s Goal
If you “engineer” your menu correctly, you’ll be able to lead diners in the direction of the food you want them to choose. Your menu is a combination of your restaurant’s concept, brand, and vision; it tells the story of who you are and what you want to bring to the table, literally. But the bottom line is still the bottom line, profitability, and the main purpose of your menu is to point your customers in the direction of your most profitable dishes. These “star” offerings – a.k.a. your “signature” dishes – are the ones that demand the highest prices and that have the highest profit margins, and your goal is to see to it that these “haymakers” end up on your customers’ plate.
Lend Your Diners a Helping Hand
Although perusing a menu is always the first, exciting step in enjoying a night out in a restaurant, it can also be a somewhat stressful experience. So many things go through a customer’s mind. Should price be a factor? Do I want to eat healthy tonight? Will soup fill me up before an entrée? Should I stick to the familiar or branch out? The clock is ticking!
You can make your customers’ life easier with an interesting menu that leaves them with fewer questions and doubts. It’s all in the descriptions and the placement, two things that help in the dreaded decision-making process.
If your food has ethnic roots, look to those roots to name your restaurant’s dishes. If you’re running an Italian restaurant, for instance, present your fried mozzarella appetizer as Mozzarelline Fritte. And while spaghetti and meatballs is probably as American as apple pie, calling it Aunt Rosa’s Milano Specialty can boost the authenticity level and give diners the impression that this isn’t any old spaghetti and meatballs, but rather a dish that you “own” and that they can’t get anywhere else.
Lead with the Description… Not the Price
A report on food descriptions from Cornell University, emphasizes that well-described menu items, with evocative and interesting explanations, can boost sales. Research shows, in fact, that intriguing menu descriptions can raise sales by as much as 25%, compared to food items without interesting text. In other words, without getting overly complex or cryptic, give your diners a sensory picture of your offerings to help them make their choices.
Restaurants that only list ingredients on their menu and don’t provide a description, miss out on the prime advertising value of the menu. When you use the right adjectives and descriptions, you’ll entice more people to order your premier dishes. Channel your inner author – or hire someone who specializes in this type of writing – to express, in words, how you feel about your food and how you want your guests to feel as well.
Draw the Customer’s Attention
Organize your menu in such a way that your customers will have easy access to the dishes you want them to focus on. There’s nothing wrong with the usual categories, i.e. Appetizers, Entrees, Desserts, etc., but, as studies have shown, customers tend to choose the first item in each category, so try to put your signature dishes first in each grouping. The number-one spot, therefore, should be your most profitable items. Also, don’t overload each category with too many items: if you pass a dozen, you’ve gone too far.
Another way to draw attention to a particular menu item is to put it in a box, along with a picture. (And by picture we mean a quality photograph and not some generic clip-art.) By setting this item apart from the other sections of the menu, you will draw your customers to the offering. Don’t overdo it: Too much of a good thing is worthless.
The Business Lunch Concept is Good Business
People love to save money, especially if it goes hand in hand with less-arduous decision-making. Package deals and fixed-price menus are time- and money-savers for your customers, and a great way for you to sell your high-profit menu items. Include a side salad, dessert, or appetizer with a main dish and you’ll see that people are willing to pay more if they think they’re getting something for free along with it. You can create one type of deal for the lunch crowd and another similar, but classier package for the dinner crowd.
Less is More
“Bracketing” is another common practice in restaurants, which can be viewed as a win-win situation. Through bracketing, the restaurant offers items in bigger and smaller sizes (priced accordingly). Customers will often opt for the smaller size because, first of all, it’s less expensive, and second, they figure that they won’t leave feeling stuffed to the gills. From the restaurant’s standpoint, however, this is exactly what the goal is: You want the diner to choose the smaller item because you’re still making a nice profit even if you’re charging less. Restaurants want to sell the smaller, cheaper item because it costs less to produce and the profit is therefore greater than with the larger-size offering.
Your Online Menu Matters
Your focus should be the same in both your in-house menu and your online menu: enticing the customer with a tantalizing description that begs them to order the item. However, there are a few differences. First, you have to be much less esoteric and clearer in your online menu; after all, there’s no server on hand to explain a cryptic description.
But with your online menu, you can also use certain phrases that work as hyperlinked keywords, which customers can click on to learn more about the item. This is a nice way to keep customers engaged with your menu. But don’t weigh your online menu down with too many words; two sentences should be enough to describe even the most complex dish, without the diner’s attention wandering.
Get into Your Customer’s Mind
In your customers’ busy lives, dining out is probably the one leisure activity they will most frequently indulge in. No one wants to work hard at figuring out what to order, and that’s where you come in. In another post we’ll talk about “bundling,” but for now start with colorful descriptions and follow our other suggestions to point your customers in the direction you want – to increase your restaurant’s profits. In your restaurant, or online, your menu is one of the most important aspects of your business.