A menu is much more than just a library of appetizers, sides and main course dishes. Beyond the physical environment of a restaurant, a menu is the most important representation of the restaurant. Creating a simple and attractive menu that both reflects the personality of your brand and allows for easy dining choices is crucial to the success of your business.
The menu as we know it today first appeared in France in the late 1700s. Its introduction was revolutionary to the dining experience, giving consumers the ability to make their own choices in an era where diners were accustomed to getting whatever the chef wanted to cook. That basic idea – the power on the side of the customer – is a double-edged sword for restaurateurs. Make menus too expansive or overly complex and the consumer could walk out the door; but build a seductive, alluring menu and the diner could order one of everything.
So how do you go about creating the perfect menu? Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. Shannon Scott, head of menu design for Applebee’s, explains that menu creation requires reviewing human behaviors, habits and languages.
While Scott takes a holistic approach to menu creation, you can start this process by first thinking through the number of options you plan to present diners with. A recent study by Bournemouth University discovered that there is an ideal amount of choices. For example, in fast-food joints, people wanted six items per category: starters, main dishes, desserts, etc. While in fine restaurants; they preferred seven starters and desserts, and 10 main courses. McDonalds is one establishment that has started cutting back on options after their rapidly-expanding menu began confusing employees and resulted in customer service issues. Finding the balance of options that‘s right for your particular brand is key in setting the stage for stress-free, easy dining choices.
Once you have the offerings decided upon, begin to explore presentation options. You may opt for a simple paper menu or go as far as to join the many casual dining restaurants that have implemented tablet ordering at tables. Regardless, design your menu thoughtfully and professionally. Consider how the consumer will read through the menu and work to balance allure and navigation – a menu cluttered with photos may be less appealing than organized lines of text. For inspiration, check out Art of the Menu. If in doubt, bring a professional designer in to lend a hand.
Lastly, test it out! Your menu doesn’t have to be permanent. Ask customers what they think and evolve as they evolve. Don’t overlook your menu as a powerful marketing tool for establishing your brand and attracting consumers.