Getting your menu right for your business is crucial. It’s one of the most important aspects of running a successful food business. I don’t need to tell you how important things like service and great tasting food are for the success of your brand, but you shouldn’t ignore the importance of showcasing your offerings with a great menu. After all, how are your potential customers going to know what food you can amaze them with if you can’t translate it to a well presented menu?
One of the main reasons why a great menu is so important is that it’s normally the first and only thing prospective customers are going to see before deciding whether to go in. Yes, I know word of mouth and repeat custom is important, but those people already know what you’re about. Potential new customers – that’s where having the right menu makes a huge difference, Especially if they’re researching where to eat online. Your menu might be the only thing they see about your business before they make a decision. This is where your menu will work more as a marketing piece than a food listing.
Keep it simple
You want a menu that speaks for itself and doesn’t rely on gimmicks. I used to work at a place that needed a member of staff to explain how the menu works. That’s a big no-no. For Cafes – Breakfast Lunch and Coffee Menu, For restaurants – Starters, mains and desserts. Simple. If people are confused when they see the menu, you’ve lost them already. It’s not always possible to have a member of staff on-hand to talk people through how the menu works, especially on a busy day. People don’t want to be reading a flow-chart, they want to have a look at what they can order.
Yes, you can still have a separate drinks or dessert menu, but don’t overcomplicate things. Some chefs fill their menu with far too many items. They’re over-ambitious, and end up creating menus that are hard to fulfil. Stick to what your business is best at, and over-deliver on the food. By the same measure, make sure there are at least a couple of options for various tastes and vegetarians.
Talk-up your food
Make sure you use the right language to make your food sound fantastic. Don’t just state the title of the dish, inform people what it comes with and where the main ingredients are from. People like to feel connected to the chain of supply, and they’re keen to hear that you’re using local ingredients. Don’t just assume they know what they’re getting – tell them. This should also save your staff members from wasting time finding out if they’re unsure. Yes, your employees should be well-trained and should know most of the items, but this isn’t always realistic to the most minute of details.
Listen to your guests
Running a business isn’t a one-way process, and your guests might have some important advice that could help you in the menu-planning process. Make a careful analysis of what’s selling well and what isn’t, so you know where to focus and where you need to have a re-think.
My managers after all their training will still tell me on occasion that guests don’t really know what they’re talking about, and that we should ignore their advice. This is what kids call ‘an epic fail’. Whilst you can’t add every guest request to the menu, consistent complaints about missing items or calls for old dishes to be returned should be listened to. Far too many café and restaurant owners fill menus with what they like and assume they know better than their customers.
Have additional options
I’ve said this before when we looked at upselling, but some people want to be sold to – they just don’t know what to buy. That’s why it’s important that you put sides and additional options in the right place on the menu. Doing so should increase your up-sells, which can make a difference to your turnover.
Have the right sort of menu for your establishment
This is really important. You want to convey the right “feel” of your establishment with your menu. Glossy branded menus might look great, but if you’re trying to convince people that they’re dining in a rustic, traditional pub – then they can be quite the contradiction. Sometimes, a simple printed menu might be just the right thing, especially if you’re offering them fresh food.
How often do you think those glossy “brand” style menus change? A few times a year? Nobody’s going to be convinced that you’re getting them fresh produce that likely changes daily when they’re reading off a formulaic cookie-cutter of a menu. Sometimes, you might want to get rid of an actual menu altogether and use a blackboard that’s changed daily. Just putting it out there…
Let them in on your story
People want to feel part of something, and they want to feel connected with your story. If your menu has room for it, a brief description of your ethos and ideology can help people feel personally connected with your place. What about a nice story of where your food came from and why I you are offering it on one large wall. Something like this could really help people feel connected with what you’re trying to do. Tell them your story and tell them why the food is so good.
People don’t just want lunch, they want an experience – and they’ll be far more likely to return to a place they feel personally connected with. That’s why sharing your goals and food ideology is important, especially if you’re trying to differentiate yourself from the local crowd.
Keep the specials fresh and different
Whilst many diners will opt for what they usually have, people want to see a fresh collection of specials. Make sure your specials look unique and not just like you’re trying to offload surplus stock. When you return to a place after a month or two and they still have the same specials – you know that they’re really not that special. Your offerings should change daily depending on the fresh produce you can source and what’s “in” at that specific time.
I used to go to a seafood restaurant that had the best selection of specials in my local area. Their offerings would depend on the actual fish that were caught that very day. Obviously, they needed a skilled chef, but it was exciting to go in and see what freshly caught items were available. Their “fish of the day” really was the fish of the day. Anyway, this restaurant was going well and earned a reputation because of it. However, after a while, they rested on their laurels and tried to cut costs, thinking that as a busy restaurant – their success would continue. They were wrong. They hired a cheaper (less skilled) chef and relied on more standard produce from a larger (and less personalised) supplier. They still tried to pretend they were offering the same great specials, but the reality was that the “specials” menu would stay the same for weeks on end. People noticed, and business slowed.
Know and set your minimum gross profit (GP)
There is no point selling something if you make very little on it or worst still you lose money on the item. It’s also not uncommon for the most popular sale item on the menu to be one that makes very little money and has a poor GP. You need to get this right and you also need to continuously monitor this as many suppliers will increase their prices on a 6 monthly basis and may not advise you. This erodes your GP if you don’t update your prices or renegotiate your supplier costs. Know your GP to know what products will find prominence on your menu.
Menu layout is important
The actual position of various items on your menu is also important. People’s eyes are drawn to certain areas, especially if it’s a menu that you “open” like a book. There are a number of ways you can capitalise on this.
One consideration for you is the location of the highest gross-profit items. I’ve seen too many menus which are laid out with their food in any order, but there are loads of tricks and ways to make the most of a menu layout.
It can actually be quite a precise science, and its not one I knew too much about. On a whim, I consulted with a close friend for a couple of days who specialised in marketing and more importantly menu layouts. He made a few key changes that weren’t obvious, but they absolutely maximised my sales and got me selling more of the products I wanted to sell, with more extras as well. I’d recommend seeking the assistance of someone who has experience in this area if you are preparing a menu, but you can also make the most of the layout yourself by highlighting recommendations and putting the right items in places where they’re more likely to be seen.
The truth is, I didn’t know much about menu layout when I first started, and a lot of my success was down to trial and error. Try something new with your menu, and keep a record of how well each item sells with each particular layout.
Menu planning is important, and it shouldn’t be neglected and left as an afterthought. Make sure you plan your menu perfectly so that it’s the best showcase of your café or restaurants offerings. The right menu can bring countless new feet in through the door, so don’t ignore it.