What Shape is Your Menu In?

Here’s a scene from many a movie comedy: a beautiful woman or handsome man walks into the room, the music rises, the camera circles, and you’re entranced. The camera closes in, and the man or woman starts to speak, and—yikes! They sound like a car alarm, or an imbecile…

A restaurant’s menu is its voice and diction, and if it’s a let-down, you have a serious impediment to success. Improving menus is mostly common sense, but not that easy in practice.

Part of the problem is that we get so familiar with our menus that it becomes almost impossible to see them as they are seen by a new guest. The longer we’ve had the same design, with additions and deletions of various menu items, descriptions, and miscellaneous verbiage, the more likely it is that our menu is sending a fractured, garbled message.

A well written and designed menu has two main purposes:

  • to present the choices available in a manner that is natural, easily read, and easily remembered
  • to communicate the position, or personality, of the restaurant as strongly as possible

With these two goals in mind, have a look at your existing menu. If you lay it flat on the table, are all of the choices for dinner visible, or does one have to turn a page or turn the menu over? Are the items categorized consistently, in a manner that makes sense? (Here’s a common menu fault—all the pasta dishes are in the pasta category, except for the seafood pastas, which somehow wind up in the fish category. Usually, this is an attempt to keep the pasta category pricing low, but to a guest it seems arbitrary and sloppy.) Are the price points consistent? (In other words, if your prices end in .25, .50, .75, and .95, do they all end that way?) Is there a lot of fluff in the descriptions? (“Crisp bacon bits,” “parmesan cheese,” “garden fresh,” “heavy cream,” and “tender chicken breast” are all examples of ‘one word too many’.) Is the tone of the menu wording consistent? (For example, it’s not uncommon to see fairly straightforward descriptions of the food, and flowery, goofy descriptions of the specialty cocktails, on the same menu. From the guest’s point of view, this inconsistency is unsettling, and cause for caution.) Does the menu communicate a point of view or personality? (Look at the wording in an Outback Steakhouse menu, for a good example.)

Performing the exercise above will take you a long way toward making your menu more effective. Here are a few other pointers:

  • put your most profitable item in any given category in the first or second position in the category (that position will almost always sell more than the others)
  • put the items or category that you want to sell the most of in the ‘sweet spot’—upper right in a two panel menu or center and upper right in a three panel menu
  • put your signature items in a box—this gives the guest an idea about what you think you’re good at
  • avoid using clip art just because you can—most of it is lousy, and has the effect of cheapening the menu
  • especially avoid inconsistency in graphic illustrations—for example, two different styles of clip art, or photos mixed with clip art—nothing makes a menu look more amateur
  • don’t use strange fonts unless you’re absolutely convinced that they’re necessary to communicate something about the concept—usually, they’re just an annoyance.
  • don’t use strange fonts unless you’re absolutely convinced that they’re necessary to communicate something about the concept—usually, they’re just an annoyance.


Does your menu need help? Contact us today for a free consultation.

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