Guess what? It’s not their fault.

Less than 5% of restaurant servers make recommendations to their guests. It’s a common struggle every restaurant operator deals with: How do I get my staff to be more sales oriented? If you’ve lost sleep at night trying to figure out ways to increase your sales, you know this struggle. Instead of beating a dead horse, try approaching the goal from a different angle.

To begin, you need to understand the paradox you are asking your staff to indulge in. Start by removing your perspective from restaurant operations completely. Think of any other business that sells products and provides customer support. That shouldn’t be hard to imagine because most companies do this. In most companies, the sales people have a goal – to sell more product. And the service departments have another goal entirely – to keep existing customers happy so they’ll continue to buy from the company in the future. Both departments serve the company’s best interest, but the service department more directly serves the interest of the customer by taking care of their needs in the short term, and only helps the business in the long term. Given they serve different interests, can you think of any business where combining the sales departments and customer service departments would be a good idea? Conflict of interest so probably not. Which is why it is common practice that most companies have separate, dedicated departments for sales and service.

Now let’s jump back into our world – the world of running a restaurant. The world where you probably speak out of both sides of your mouth. On one hand you tell your servers, “The key to providing great service is to treat your guests like they are guests in your own home.” I’ve always felt this was a great way to simplify the foundation of hospitality. But then you talk out of the other side of our mouth and beg them to “be a sales person, not an order taker.” Here’s the paradox: I don’t know about you, but when I have guests in my home, I don’t try to sell them something. The reality is being a sales person goes against the virtues of truly serving your customer. This explains why only 5% of servers make recommendations. It’s not natural to recommend something to someone you don’t know.

My point here is simple. Training your staff so they are knowledgeable and helpful when your guests need their help is vital. But asking them to use their knowledge to be “more of a salesperson” is counterproductive and goes directly against what it means to serve guests in the first place.

“So what am I to do?” you ask. Start by recognizing something you’ve taken for granted far too long – your menu, more than anything else, has the greatest impact on what people will eat, drink, and spend in your restaurant. Your menu IS your sales department! So make it great. Odds are, you might have some things working for you but a lot of things working against you with regard to menu design. Do you know the principles of menu engineering? What do you know about list order, readability, pricing strategy, what to emphasize and what not to emphasize? If you’re not up to speed on menu engineering, you better learn or get out of the restaurant business, because what you’re doing is equivalent to a non restaurant company under-resourcing its sales department or not having one at all.

Instead of holding your servers accountable for your sales, hold yourself accountable for failing to understand what your primary sales tool is in the first place. After you’ve done that, explore the many options now available to the modern, savvy restaurateur for menu presentation. Some things may never change – but your menu shouldn’t be one of them.

Are you committing these 4 deadly sins on your menu?

At Menuvative, we eat, breath and sleep menu engineering. Everything we do is centered around crafting menus that simultaneously improve sales and guest satisfaction. If you’d like to be more successful in 2018, let me share 4 mistakes I often see in the design and layout of restaurant menus, particularly independents. If you want to improve your bottom line, start looking more closely at how you sell your product in the first place.

#1 Price Formatting

There’s actually four separate mistakes in listing a dish like this…….

Grilled Salmon $18.99

instead of like this……

Grilled Salmon 19

(i) aligning the prices of dishes along the right side allow the consumer to shop by price instead of shop for what they will enjoy.

(ii) the use of a currency symbol “$” is completely unnecessary and psychologically linked to the act of spending money. People will put $$$ in ads where they want to convey an opportunity to make lots of money. Good use in that case but quite the opposite if you’re selling something.

(iii) if you heard somewhere that listing a price at 18.99 instead of 19.00 had a positive psychological impact on sales, you’re right – except that was 30 years ago and it no longer works! A study done by Cornell University in 2009 proved that most consumers have grown used to this trick over the last 3 decades and when we see 18.99, we subconsciously round up to 19 in our heads without a thought. That same study showed simplifying the price to just 19 (without the “.00”) actually increased the sales of the same item significantly. So the number of digits used to convey the price actually effects the way people perceive the amount. Fewer digits feels like a lower price, so 19 is better than both 19.00 and 18.99

(i) last but not least, the price in the latter example is a smaller font than that of the first example. Again, by intentionally de-emphasizing price, we encourage the consumer to focus on what is more important – finding the dish they will enjoy most. Try looking at my two examples as though you’re looking at them for the first time. Do you notice how much more the price jumps out at you in the first example.

#2 Too Much or Too Little Content

The menu is your primary sales tool. If you’re saying to yourself “My servers are my primary sales tool,” I pity you for the delusion you are suffering from. The fact is the vast majority of servers are order takers. But that’s okay, because great service should be about taking care of guests, not pressing them to spend more. There is saying in sales that sums this up perfectly: “Everyone likes to shop. Some people like to buy. Nobody likes to be sold.”

If you look at every chain restaurant (who have big budgets for menu and marketing design) you’ll notice a few common and very strong correlations between menu content and per guest spending – namely photography and excellent language describing the most profitable dishes. If you’re an independent restaurateur you’re probably not doing that, but you can do better even without an expensive marketing company or design team on your side. Here’s what to avoid:

(i) Name + price or Name + price + key ingredients with little or no description of the dish at all

(ii) a five sentence paragraph under the name of every menu item so that the menu is loaded with copy and it takes 10 minutes to find your way through it all.

You walk a very fine line with this one. Too little description fails to entice. Getting too wordy hurts readability. Studies have shown that the average consumer’s total spend starts to decrease after two minutes of reading the menu. After that, people start to panic and feel rushed to “just pick something”. At that point, the opportunity to upsell is gone. You should do at least to two things. One, identify what items add the most profit to your bottom line and two, craft 2 sentence descriptions that articulate why those dishes are the best dishes you offer. TIP – if you aren’t the best writer, get someone else to do this. Either way, get this done.

#3 Poor Item Positioning

Do you know anything about the Kasavana-Smith Matrix is (stars, horses, puzzles, dogs) and the basics of reading patterns and menu item positioning? Sadly, the vast majority of independent restaurateurs don’t, and even though it’s taught in most hospitality management programs today, few restaurants employ the proven method of tracking item sales performance and designing the menu around actionable data and natural reading tendencies. Even if you’re the most talented chef in the world, if you’re not crafting your primary sales tool from actionable data, like recipe costing, profit contribution, item volume and percentage of sales (for starters), the odds of success are not in your favor. If you’re not doing this, start doing it. If you don’t know how to do it, learn how or hire someone to do it.

#4 Underestimating the Menu Experience Itself

Of course service is important, and you can’t succeed unless you put good food on the table. But the most valuable 5-10 minutes you have with your guest is the time they spend with the menu because that is when the decisions that determine your revenue are made. What will I eat? What will I drink? How much will I spend? With all of that in the balance, are you putting the appropriate amount of time and energy into your menu? Probably not.

I hope you find these tips useful regardless of whether or not we win your business. While you’re thinking more about your menu, start thinking one step further, about the means in which you actually present it. At Menuvative, we put menu engineering on steroids because we’re no longer bound by the limitations of paper. We live in a different world now, one where more than 90% of people spends hours each day on their smartphones. Presenting sales information (that’s what a menu’s job is) on a boring piece of paper that says “Item, ingredients, price” is a method that dies a little more each die. So when you decide you want to blow your guests away with a powerful menu presentation, we are here for you.

All the best in 2018 and kind regards.

The Difference Between Knowing the Path and Walking the Path

Imenutech is 5 years old this month! What a great time to reflect. After a stressful year of secretive product development, we launched Menuvative to a mixed response. Some stroked my ego like I was the next Steve Jobs. Other’s looked at me like I was Doc from the movie Back to the Future, pitching the idea of the Flux Capacitor and time travel. I find relief that this theme has been echoed by many of history’s pioneers.

Back then, people were just starting the romance with their smartphones and had not yet become married to them the way they are today. I find myself so grateful to our earliest clients. You took the risk and bought in when tablets were 3 times today’s cost and the benefits had only been proven in a few restaurants. As you’ve begun upgrading your hardware, I’m happy to see your costs drop and your ROI rise even more!

This summer we launched Menuvative X3, a complete redesign 2 years in the making. It is smarter, faster, built to scale in large organizations, and literally better than our original product in every way. Also, the cost of tablet technology has hit the floor as we predicted it would. The future is never certain, but it sure is much more clear and exciting at this moment in time.

Our clients and partners around the country have laid a great foundation these last 4 years. I’m so proud to see Menuvative used in so many concepts and in ways I didn’t even imagine. They range from small Bar & Grills to Pizzerias, Tap Houses, Wine Bars, Bistros, Steak Houses, Seafood, Italian, Indian, or Japanese restaurants, hotels, resorts, and casinos. Our experience has taught us Menuvative succeeds wherever a menu is needed and an innovative spirit exists. Their success presents restaurants with the burden of proof and a very tangible choice: either lower costs, increase sales, and improve the guest experience – or continue doing things the inferior way that they know at their own expense.

Thanks again to all of those who chose to walk the path with us before they knew the path. We know the rest of the industry will see your success and make a smarter choice soon enough. I wish I could use that Flux Capacitor now to get a peek at this industry in another 5 years.