best new Canadian restaurants

Eight dos and don’ts for menus

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By Diane Chiasson
It’s a well-known fact in the restaurant and foodservice industry that your menu is your most effective marketing tool. Your menu not only needs to be interesting enough to draw customers into your operation, but it also needs to create opportunities for you to get those customers to spend as much as possible.

Don’t think of your menu as simply a pricelist that you can type up and print on your computer at home. Your menu needs to attract attention, live up to your brand name, sell your most profitable items, and upsell extra items.

Here are a few guidelines to follow when developing or revamping your menu:

1.    Do figure out which menu items are your top-sellers

Keep track of what your customers order most. Is that menu item also your most profitable item? Or is it your least profitable item? Figure out which menu items will generate the most profit for your operation, and feature that item prominently on your menu by using borders or highlight boxes, or make it your signature dish. Use photos and write mouthwatering descriptions to sell your food and drinks.

2.    Don’t make a price list

If your menu lists all of your items on one side of the page with a line of dots connecting each item to its price, you are inviting your customers to order their food based on how much everything costs. This type of menu allows customers to compare prices on all your menu items, thus unintentionally highlighting all your lower-priced items. Instead, embed the price into the description of your menu item. Don’t highlight it, or make it another colour. Bottom line, you don’t want to attract attention to the price.

3.    Do change your menu often

You should be updating your menu seasonally. This is not to say that you need to unveil a brand new menu every three months. Keep all of your signature dishes and customer favourites, but take the opportunity to try out new menu items by first offering them as appetizers. If they get good reviews, then make them entrées on your next menu revision. You can also offer daily specials. Consider adding the specials that received the best feedback onto the menu permanently.

4.    Don’t expand your menu to try to please everyone

One of the biggest mistakes that restaurant and foodservice owners and operators make is to try to put too many items on the menu to try to please everyone. A menu is not meant to be a book. Too much choice will confuse your customers, and turn their dining experience into a frustrating one, as well as drive up your food costs.

5.    Do remember your brand

Make sure that the design and feel of your menu is also cohesive with your brand. Do the fonts, colours and content give your customers a sense of what type of operation you want to be?

6.    Don’t overprice your menu items

Make sure that your prices are competitive with other restaurants and foodservice operations in your area. Consider raising your drink prices and lowering your food prices. Customers are more likely to pay closer attention to prices of the food, rather than the price of an iced tea of soda. Keep in mind that customers aren’t looking for cheap food. They are looking for good value for their money.

7.    Do use separate menus for drinks and desserts

Use separate menus with great photos for your specialty drinks and desserts. These items can get lost in your main menu, but stand out when presented on their own. Put the specialty drinks and desserts menu on the table, so customers have a chance to look through it before they move onto the main menu. Come dessert time, they will still have that image of the mouth-watering dessert they saw when they first sat down ingrained in their head!

8.    Don’t do it all yourself

If you think your menu could be better, consider hiring a consultant to look it over. Sometimes, a few simple changes to a menu could make you thousands of dollars more in profits.


About the author:

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for more than 25 years. She is recognized as the industry leader in providing innovative and revenue-increasing foodservice and retail merchandising programs, interior design, branding, menu engineering, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at 416-926-1338, toll-free at 1-888-926-6655, chiasson@chiassonconsultants.com, or visit www.chiassonconsultants.com.

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