Unlock the secrets to a better restaurant menu with our two-step approach. Learn how menu redesign can skyrocket your sales, build customer loyalty, and create a focused dining experience. Explore menu design fundamentals and discover the power of a clear restaurant identity. Say goodbye to confusion and hello to a better restaurant menu today!
Several years ago, I launched a restaurant with two friends and we made a bunch of rookie mistakes. We stumbled right out of the gate, struggling to attract and retain customers.
We tried tweaking the restaurant from all sorts of angles – operating hours, concept, decor, signage – but nothing really helped.
Then, we redesigned our menu.
The redesign process transformed the restaurant and the business. Our monthly sales more than doubled, we built a reliable base of regulars, and our marketing and operations became much more effective.
Big results, but the process wasn’t complicated.
We followed a simple two-step approach to take our menu from a confusing mess to a powerful sales (and marketing) tool.
I’ll unpack our story and the two-step process in more detail later, but first let’s dive into some menu design strategy fundamentals.
What makes a good menu?
Let’s get one thing out of the way – there is no single generic formula for a perfect menu.
A good menu supports its restaurant’s mission, making the diner’s experience smooth and easy.
Fast food joints, for example, are built on speed and convenience. Fast food menus, therefore, have to offer quick and easy choices.
Take McDonald’s ordering kiosks, for example. The touch screen system is quick, efficient, and almost everything you do is based on images and ease-of-use.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Michelin star restaurants like Noma rarely use product photos or individual prices. Instead, they present their diners with more limited choices and a more targeted “experience”.
Diners arrive at Noma already knowing how much they’re going to pay and expecting to be walked through a completely unique foodie evening. Noma’s menu is a no-frills, simple document that quietly allows the highly trained servers to lead the experience.
Where to start:
Step 1: Focus
If you’re designing a menu, you’ve got to begin with your restaurant’s identity. What’s your purpose? What makes you special?
Like any business, it’s important for restaurants to clearly define what they’re doing, who they’re serving, and how they’re doing it.
The best way to do this is with a positioning statement, like this:
“[Restaurant Name] is a [Restaurant Type] serving [Target Customers] with [Experience / Service Highlight]”
Most restaurants never really define what they’re trying to do. It’s tough to create a relevant menu if there’s no clarity about the restaurant’s mission and audience.
A strong positioning statement will help solve the #1 menu problem that struggling restaurants face – a lack of focus.
So far I’ve shown you menus that get it right. Pick up a good menu and you should immediately “get” what the restaurant is trying to do.
Many restaurants never get there, and it’s often because of unfocused menus.
Have you ever watched Kitchen Nightmares? Literally every episode – for 12 seasons! – is built around a menu redesign (plus staff training and a physical makeover).
Compare the menus I mentioned above (McDonald’s and Noma) with this crazy booklet from Sebastian’s (Kitchen Nightmares Season 1, Episode 6). It’s so complicated even the servers can’t figure it out!
Kitchen Nightmare examples might seem like wild horror stories made for TV, but they’re actually representative of very common problems – and the blame often lies squarely on the menu strategy. Many restaurants share these two big menu mistakes:
- Including too many options. It’s confusing and inconvenient for the diner.
- Including options that don’t fit with each other. Again, it’s confusing, inconvenient, and potentially off-putting!
It’s a really common problem with inexperienced restaurant owners. Thankfully, there’s an equally simple solution to both issues – delete, delete, delete!
Huge, diverse menus don’t help the diner. Instead, they dilute a restaurant’s identity and make the customer’s experience a difficult one.
If you’re not sure which dishes to chop and which to keep, here’s what you should do:
Once you’ve nailed your restaurant’s identity and core dishes, it’s up to your menu to sell – and sell the right items! In order to do that, you’ve got to consider the menu’s design elements and formatting.
Here are two simple questions you can use to grade your menu:
- Is it easy for your audience to read / navigate?
- Does it promote your core dishes?
Effective menus are easy to read with simple decisions for diners to make. That’s true at fast food joints, fine dining establishments, and everything in between.
Basically, don’t do this:
A menu’s readability, organization, and layout will ultimately determine how effective it is.
Good design actively attracts a reader’s eye to certain areas of the page. In this article about brochure design, Neville covered how viewers’ eyes are drawn to certain elements of a page – the same principles apply directly to restaurant menus.
Here’s a useful reference guide by Gregg Rapp where readers are likely to zero in on.
If you’ve carried out the action steps from the previous section and refocused your restaurant around a couple of star dishes, you’ve got to make sure they stand out on the menu.
Here’s an example of a restaurant doing exactly that, highlighting its oyster bar – the most expensive item on the menu – in the top right hand corner:
Notice the food photos in TGI Friday’s menu. They’re not accidental choices – the photos actively guide diners to premium dishes.
Reference – https://copywritingcourse.com/restaurant-menu/