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.