Treat Your Restaurant Menu with a Little Respect

By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. We all want it. You want it, your staff wants it, and your customers at times demand it. You may not realize it, but your menu wants it too. Now judging by the design of many menus out there, it's a plea that has fallen on deaf ears.

Let's get this clear. Your menu is your #1 marketing tool. It is the one thing that you can be sure of that everyone coming into your restaurant will read. Yet, many operators fail to recognize this fact and continue to treat their menus as an afterthought. Let's look at four things you need to always keep in mind when updating your menu.

1. Keep it simple. You cannot be everything to everyone.

The days of large multipage menu monstrosities are coming to an end. Even large chains like McDonald's have realized the error in trying to be everything to everyone. You can't be. McDonald's has seen that a larger menu slows down service, and for a fast food concept, that is trouble with a capital "T." 

Let's use the rock band the Rolling Stones as a metaphor. Over their long, illustrious career, the Rolling Stones recorded 439 songs. Of those songs, only eight actually were number one on the charts. Now, if you went to a Rolling Stones concert and Mick Jagger did not play “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” you would probably be upset. Do you care about all those B-side recordings that were not really that good? You want to hear their hits! Think of your menu like that. It has to be your greatest hits.

“Your menu needs to reflect the things that your team can execute perfectly all the time!”

2. Your menu is part of your brand. Remember that.

When you read a menu, it tells you a lot about a restaurant. Your menu is a story and an integral part of your brand identity. Are you a French bistro transporting the diner to that little corner Paris café? Are you a Latin inspired restaurant exploring the cultural influence of South America, Central America and Mexico? You see, your menu tells your customers more about you than you probably realize.

Your menu combined with your decor is the foundational elements of an exceptional dining experience. That solidifies your brand within your market. Many restaurant owners design their menus and concepts around personal egos and not the guests. That is a recipe for disaster. If your customers cannot look at your menu and have a clear idea of your brand, then you need to rethink your menu. How important is your brand identity? How important is air to you? That is how you need to think of your menu and your brand… like air!

3. Fix the typos… please.

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Having typos on the menu sends a signal to your customers that you just don't care about the details. And if you don't care about the details, how are you going to gain my trust about delivering an exceptional dining experience? You see, when people read a menu, they're forming perceptions about your restaurant and what they're going to receive for their dollar. Now granted, we all know that sometimes the guest is wrong on their perceptions. However, the guest is always the guest, and the guest pays the bills.

With the resources available on the Internet, it is almost unforgivable to have a typo on your menu. Even if you are not good at proofreading, get another person to look it over. Don't have anyone to look it over? Find a professional on the Internet. They're out there, and would be shocked at how easy and inexpensive it is to hire someone to look over your work.

4. If your menu does not stand out from the crowd, you just become part of the crowd.

As we discussed before, your menu is the cornerstone of your brand. It's a tricky thing to create a brand that stands out in the marketplace. You need to be careful that your menu and concept are not too cutting-edge for your market. This is where you have to do your due diligence in market research and feasibility. Your menu has to have elements and keywords that they can identify with.

Let's look at a classic American diner menu. Many diners have meatloaf on the menu. An entrée that most consumers can easily identify with. Now, if this particular diner wanted to stand out from the market, they could create a Moroccan Meatloaf made with ground lamb, ground beef, dates, roasted garlic, preserved lemon ketchup and crushed pita chips. The customer reading the menu sees the word meatloaf, identifies with it and is drawn into read more. Words are powerful. The words you use on your menu can make a big impact on sales and how your brand is perceived in the market.

So next time you are updating or creating a menu, don't forget to incorporate these four things to offer a menu that resonates with your customers.