Competition in the restaurant industry has never been so fierce. So is it time to consider updating your menu? Before they’ve even set foot in your restaurant, potential customers are making decisions based on what your menu says about you. And it’s important to get it right.
From mistakes in the layout, to using overly descriptive language, there are many menu turn-offs that are potentially losing you custom every day. Here are our tips for creating a menu that’s guaranteed to increase footfall and leave customers satisfied.
The DesignWhen it comes to menu design, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking an overly stylised menu is the key to attracting custom. Make sure to keep fonts simple and easy to read, and avoid images of your dishes. Your choice of image may not be to everyone’s taste, and it’s better to let their imagination do the job. It tends to be junk mail and takeaway menus that are covered with images, and you don’t want your menu to look cheap, or disposable.
While a fancy menu, embossed on expensive card, or laminated, might be eye-catching, it might not necessarily give off the right impression. You can also protect your menus and add a bit of character with menu holders and boards. An inspector for restaurant guidebooks suggests that having this type of menu shows a lack of change in options. A simple menu that can be easily reprinted is a menu that is open to change, and is more likely to be responsive to food trends and reflect seasonality. As customer expectations grow, your menu needs to keep up with the competition.
Following Food Trends
The Instagram GenerationIn the age of social media, we’re now constantly exposed to the latest food trends. Whether it’s through Instagram posts, adverts, or popular list posts about the latest fads, it’s difficult to miss how food trends are evolving. The obsession with photographing our food, and sharing on sites like Instagram, has had an influence on the way we now present dishes. From colourful spiralized salads to over the top desserts, Instagram worthy presentation is becoming more and more common. But does this mean that now you need to have a constantly evolving menu to keep up? To a certain extent, yes. Your menu should evolve as the industry does. It’s good to be a little adventurous and add new options as the seasons and trends change. This way you can keep regulars interested and entice new customers.
Ethical Eating & ProvenanceIn 2016 we saw another rise in public interest when it comes to ethical sourcing and animal and employee welfare. People are interested in knowing the story of their food. Where was it grown? How was their meat reared? It’s good to include this on your menu briefly, to reassure your customers that your ingredients are good quality and ethically sourced. It’s even become a popular trick to mention the farm, or specific farmer, that the ingredients came from. Our resident chef and former Head Chef at Thornbury Castle, Mark Veale, advises that traceability is key when writing a menu. This helps customers to connect with the food they are ordering.
Be careful when writing your menu descriptions though. It’s easy to come across as pretentious by being too wordy, or take away from the actual quality of the ingredients with empty adjectives. If you are serving a good piece of beef, then shout about where it came from. 21 Day Aged Aberdeen Angus Steak tells your customer that it’s a cut of beef worth eating because it is well sourced, and that’s what they want to know.
Communal dining, sharing platters and small plates are taking the dining scene by storm. This type of dining gives people the choice to mix and match and encourages more a social, hands on approach to eating out. Having some ‘while you wait’ dishes, tapas style options and nibbles on your menu is a great way to approach this trend can also encourage customers to spend a bit more.
Big boards of sharing platters are also gaining popularity. In grill restaurants it’s become common to have large boards with a variety of meats and sides, to allow a kind of self-service at the table and so customers can choose what and how much they want on their plate.
These days everything is prefixed with the word ‘craft’. But is this something that works when it comes to drawing in customers with your menu? From craft beers to artisan bread, people like to hear that their food was made with care and skill. When you’re competing against restaurants with highly skilled chefs, you need to let your customers know that your food is made with just as much love and talent. The traditional methods of cooking are back in fashion too. Sourdough bread has become a must-have on menus nationwide, and many restaurants are baking their bread in-house. If you’re going the extra mile, there’s no harm in saying so on your menu, as long as you keep it concise.
Street Food & Global Dining
It’s rare to see a menu today that doesn’t take some inspiration from afar. South East Asian cuisine has taken the industry by storm this year, and the on-the-go street food approach is very popular. If it’s right for your business, incorporating global influences into dishes on your menu is on-trend and can encourage a wide variety of diners. But it’s best not to venture into too many cuisines on one menu, as this can give customers the impression that your chefs do many styles of cooking, but possibly don’t do any of them well.
Street food dishes are great for including in your small plates section if you choose to do this. Dishes like bao, dumplings and tacos are ideal for snacking and sharing and still pack a punch with the flavours.
When you organise your prices in one column, customers are drawn to the prices rather than the dishes when they decide what to order. To take the focus away from the cost of your dishes, it’s better to have prices arranged in a less comparable way, such as on the end of your dish descriptions.
Studies have shown that customers tended to spend more per head when their menu had prices with no currency symbols. A simple 7 rather than £7 apparently means that customers associate the cost less with actually spending, so they are more likely to order a more expensive dish. According to Mark Veale, it’s better to put a rounded cost of 7 than 6.99. This appears more honest, and is better than trying to deceive customers.
When it comes to organising the order of your menu, Mark Veale suggests that having your high profit dishes at the very top (eg. Soup) and bottom of the menu is the best way to go. People’s eyes are drawn to these areas first and you want these dishes to be best sellers.
When choosing items for your menu, work with your chefs. Having a concise but carefully considered menu is far superior to a huge menu that causes chaos in the kitchen. For a restaurant menu, around six options for each course is a good starting point – although you can have less options for dessert.
Include your ingredients in more than one dish. Having a standalone dish containing a slightly wacky ingredient can be risky. On an off day, if you are to sell none of that particular dish, you risk wasting stock. Incorporating the ingredient into another dish can help combat this problem.
Once you’ve put your new menu together, make sure you get the message out there that you’ve got exciting new dishes on offer. Use social media to promote your menu, and you can even put a message on an A-board outside to grab the attention of passers-by.
Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism via VisualHunt / CC BY-ND
Main image showing: Churchill Bamboo Plate