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The smart restaurateurs cheat-sheet for menu optimisation
10 tips to help you make more sales, increase order value and create happy diners who come back for more!
It’s all about positioning! Place your money-makers and easy-servers in a prime position (1)
ANCHORS & DECOYS
Use both to harness behavioural psychology to offset your pricing and guide your customers to a profitable buying decision (2)
Keep it simple! Choose your fonts and colours carefully and don’t use capitals in descriptions (3)
Overcrowding is for sardine tins only. Let your menu breathe and your customers' mind makes easier decisions (4)
RULE OF 7
The perfect number of options and groups for your menu items. Reduce overwhelm by keeping the options to seven (5)
Don’t just offer up an ingredients list, go to town with your descriptions by creating desire… get those mouths watering (6)
Don’t highlight or bring attention to your prices using right alignment or dotted lines. Just tag it on the end like this → (7)
Everyone knows which country they’re eating in so get rid of your currency symbol and let the food descriptions be the deciding factor and not the price (8)
Want to increase your customer spend? Don’t make them choose between starters or puds, give them a separate menu at the end to eliminate the decision (9)
Turn your wine list into a wine menu using all the tips above. Even go as far as offering to match the wine with the food options! (10)
- Go graphic
It’s all about positioning AKA – where the eye rests first.
This is argued about by scientists as being inconclusive but if you think about the positioning of adverts in a newspaper, one position is worth more than the other so remember to consider this when designing your menu.
What do you want to sell? All of it? I know, so do we… but there are some things you offer to your guests that have better margins and there are some things that the kitchen can bang out all day as opposed to putting them in the weeds if they get more than ten orders.
Your stars need to be positioned in the best places on the menu.
You want to sell lots of grill items? Place it centre right or first on the list.
The souffle? Perhaps move it down the list and maybe bottom left? It's there but you just don’t want to sell it 3 times more than anything else.
Soup? Not so sexy and often an afterthought… but the margin is great and the chefs love it because in a manic service it's easy to prep and send out from the kitchen. So often Soup is relegated to the bottom left and corner, the sorry afterthought in a long list of ‘signature starters’
You know what soup makes? Good money! Give it a prime position.
- Anchor your price or use a decoy to offset your pricing
Anchoring a price or using a decoy is not the same thing but you can use both to harness behavioural psychology to guide your customers in their buying decisions.
Anchoring is a method to “set the tone”.
By pricing an item that is commonly comparable you set out your price positioning. For example… A cheese burger or a margarita pizza is found in lots of restaurants, so people that eat out a lot will have an idea what price to expect.
When you serve the same menu item, how you price it provides a point of comparison – similar, higher or lower as you choose. If you are in a very competitive market place (who isn’t) this helps to “set out your stall”.
Decoys – Do something silly.
A decoy is a dish that has a ludicrously high price, far more expensive than the rest of the dishes on your menu, which means everything else seems fair by comparison.
For example a steak dressed in gold leaf for £75 is the decoy, making the £35 truffle risotto look very reasonable.
Or make something for Instagram – a silly sized and priced multi-decker burger… price it as high as the deck….your other more modest burgers will then seem a no-brainer.
- The plain and simple truth about fonts
There’s a lot of thought that goes into fonts… and lots of money in it too. Here’s a quick run-down of how to select your fonts for a better user experience (leading to bigger profits).
WHEN YOU TEXT IN UPPERCASE, PEOPLE THINK YOU’RE SHOUTING AT THEM.
I know people don't think exactly the same when reading a menu but please, please, please don’t let your designer have a description in uppercase. Why? Because it’s hard to read. It really is best to use uppercase and lowercase like your English teacher told you to as it helps the eyes to read and the brain understand. Don’t make reading the menu hard.
Another one to think about is fonts with sans serif (like this Arial) are great on screen but actually…
…a font with a serif (the classic being Times New Roman like this) is actually much easier to read on a physical printed sheet, like your menu. It’s because of the serif's tails that lead the eye to the next letter but that works against you on screen.
Uber fine lines look really cool on screen but they may not translate onto the page well. Just remember that not everyone has perfect eyesight and most restaurants and bars will have lighting that sets a mood… often dim or subdued.
When you consider the colour of your fonts, again this differs on a computer screen compared to a printed sheet. Think of it like this: the screen is a great big light and the printed page depends on the surrounding light to illuminate the colours. Using pale and insipid colours can look very sophisticated on screen but if there is not enough contrast, it's hard to read.
Fancy copperplate scripts? They do have their place. If you are or want to be considered “high-end fine dining” or “upmarket” then a scripted font will help build that aesthetic.
Dover Sole, Fois Gras and Chateaubriand… Script is good.
Chips and cheese… Courier.
But please… don’t ever use Comic Sans ;-)
- White Space is your friend
Too much going on with your menus makes the customer's brain work too much!
Allow plenty of white space on your menu to showcase a clean and orderly menu selection.
Over-taxing your customer’s mind, by giving them too much to think about, makes them uncomfortable and will often force them to go for their default or safe menu option.
We want to encourage them to explore what’s on the menu without becoming overwhelmed.
Remember … A confused mind can’t make decisions.
This is exactly why Netflix and Amazon have started making suggestions because there’s too much to choose from in their vast library.
“White space, sometimes called negative space, is simply unmarked space in the design of any piece of print, website, social media posts or other online work. It’s the space between areas of the layout, between areas of text lines and between paragraphs. White space doesn’t have to mean an empty space with a white background, as it can be of any colour, texture, image or pattern. Using white space in design, in an even way, makes the content more easily scannable and improves legibility very significantly. Research shows that the correct use of white space between lines of paragraphs and its margins to the left and right, increases comprehension up to 20%” – George McKay, SuperTuff Grand-Designer
White space is only possible when you don’t have too many options, which brings us to…
- The rule of 7
There’s a thing to bear in mind called Millers Law…
“In 1956, George Miller asserted that the span of immediate memory and absolute judgment were both limited to around 7 pieces of information”
Now, most menus have more than 7 items on them… I know, I know.
What you do instead is group them. For example, starters, salads, soups, mains fish, mains meat, mains veg, sides… that's a perfect 7. You can get to 9 at a push.
Then, you can expand each group with up to 7 items per group, making it easier to choose.
Always try for an odd number!
- Describe the options and make their mouth water!
Your description is not an ingredient list. It’s time to step up and sell you stuff!
Give people a reason to choose each item. Detail provenance, history, or stories. Even brand names draw people's attention to your dishes and get people thinking about what they are going to eat.
Like most of the best things in life, anticipation is part of the fun. Give your customer something to think about.
This is not a flowery idea or anecdote – it's been proven.
See the example below:
Chocolate cake with cream.
Belgian Double Chocolate Torte served with hand whipped cream from Graham’s Organic dairy.
Same ingredients, different name and description. It will help your sales and also help how people remember your food (and venue!).
- Don’t highlight your pricing
Why would anyone think it is a good idea to highlight a price unless it's amazingly cheap?
And on a menu, it’s definitely not a good idea.
Payment is the classic pain point inside a restaurant… unexpected charges or being too slow to bring the bill or credit card machine.
If you highlight prices people will buy purely on price and not what the product is, or how you describe it.
It’s best to make the price part of the description by tagging it on the end rather than bringing attention to it with a line of dots or different font.
If you align your prices right and the description left, it’s human nature to go to the right and read the prices. Consciously or unconsciously your customer categorises each menu dish according to the price… high, low, middle of the road, rather than by the food description and desire for each item.
Heaven forbid that you list in price order! Let computers and the internet do that. You have them in your restaurant sitting at your table… they’ve already decided to spend money. First let them read about your amazing dishes, allowing their mouths to water with your descriptions, then let them take note of the price.
Another tip: Don’t use a special colour, bold or underline. You can’t hide the price, just like you can’t hide the calorie count, but you also don’t need to shout about it.
Which leads us to…
- Nix the currency symbol
Bin it, go on, do it. Get rid of your currency symbol.
No damage will be done. Unless you live in some dynamic part of the world that uses multiple currencies.
No one is going to be in one country and think the currency of the restaurant will be in another.
Payment can be a pain point for customers, which can spoil their dining experience. Currency symbols remind people of the pain of paying. It has been academically proven that having no currency sign returns a greater spend.
What have you got to lose?
If you’re nervous about taking the plunge and removing your currency symbol, make a statement about which currency you are using at the bottom of the menu along with the service charge and allergen small print.
- Desert the desserts
Do you want to sell BOTH desserts and starters?
Generally they’re a good margin item… so it's worth going for both.
The secret is… you will sell more by NOT having them on the same menu.
Think about it… you get a menu, you see the steak you fancy but then you see the garlic prawns as a starter, then you see the sticky toffee pudding (that’s so good!)...
Ohhh decisions, decisions!
Prawns or Pud?
Having both is just greedy… isn’t it?
So, you don’t have the prawns because you know you want the pud.
Ta-da… The starter is a lost sale!
Don’t let them see both options.
If they can’t see the option for sticky toffee pudding, they might not hesitate with the prawns but if they do have the prawns, then there’s still a chance they might have the sticky toffee too, once they’ve had time to consider it.
When you clear the main plates and hand people the dessert menu (don’t ask, just hand it to them 😉 ) it’s got desserts, tea, coffee and a dessert wine for them… they might get the pudding, they might not… but at least they’ve not made that decision at the start of the meal.
P.S. Put a dessert wine on your pudding menu and you WILL start to sell it.
- Wine lists.
I know the name says list but it’s really a menu. Everything above applies here too.
Too often I see wine lists that are just that: factual descriptions, sizes and price… and often set out in price order.
Why not go the extra mile and offer pairing suggestions with the types of food you serve?
A word about free wine lists from your merchant:
Often your wine merchant will offer to print your wine lists for free. Beware, there’s no such thing as a free lunch! If your merchant is providing the wine list for free, consider the following:
Is the stock sale or return?
You have probably bought it. They’re selling on their own terms not yours. Make your wine merchant work a bit harder.
Tasting and training.
Get your wine merchant to do tastings with your staff. The staff will love it and funnily enough they will start selling the wines they like and have tasted.
The biggest impact on wine menus is the grape variety, followed by wine awards.