Three ways to help your outstanding menu items take centre stage

By Denis Hancock

Menu design doesn’t always get the time and attention it deserves from restaurant marketers. Many operators, however, intuitively understand how important the menu is as a “between the four walls” sales tool.

One of the best ways to get the most marketing mileage from your menu is to ensure that your restaurant’s outstanding items truly stand out. Here are a few tips on how to make sure this happens.

1. Make sure you actually know what your outstanding menu items are

While this sounds rather obvious, in reality it is often challenging to truly know what menu items your guests think are great, which can sometimes be at odds with what your staff may believe. This is particularly true if you are regularly rolling out new menu items. Menu mix data, on its own, is generally insufficient – and often leads to people staring at a long list of items separated by a few percentage points from top to bottom (with perhaps a few superstar items above them). When looking at them, how do you answer important questions such as:

  • Are there some items hidden in there that guests are loving, and you should be featuring more?
  • Are there some items a lot of people order (but only once), while others relatively few people order (on a regular basis)?
  • Are there items we could cut and no one would care?

Some of these questions may be relatively easy to answer if you are a massive chain or have a huge research budget. Most restaurants, however, don’t benefit from that type of scale. One of the ways we find answers to these questions (among others) is by using consumer surveys to get key information on things such as menu item penetration and menu item favouritism. Using this information, valuable insights can be obtained in terms of what your guests love (and come back for on a regular basis), what they can do without, and what you shouldn’t be offering them – all of which help to efficiently build sales and loyalty in the long term.

2. Make your truly outstanding menu items really stand out

Even when a restaurant knows what its superstar menu items are, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “everyone already knows us for that; let’s make other things much more prominent.” With rare exceptions, most of your guests probably don’t spend that much time thinking about you, and reminding them of what you are truly great at can be beneficial. As an easy way to test if you are doing this, give your menu to someone who has never been to your restaurant before. If they don’t quickly know exactly what you are known for, there is probably something very wrong.

In terms of communicating outstanding items (whatever they are), simply saying it’s your best/signature/specialty menu item and that it’s really, really good isn’t enough. Tell them why it’s good, what unique things you do to make it so good, and ideally show an amazing picture (never under-invest in photography) of what they are going to get. Sometimes the best way to grow is selling more of what you are really, really good at than trying to sell more different things.

3. Make your menu smartphone friendly

Smart phones and other mobile devices are rapidly changing the marketing landscape, and restaurants are no exception. BrandSpark’s recent mobile study shows that heavy restaurant users are much more likely to use smartphones than others. Given the frequency at which spontaneous decisions are made to go to a restaurant in a local area, your mobile presence can have a huge impact on attracting guests if it quickly shows something they just happen to be in the mood for. How your menu appears is a key part of this. What might look beautiful or easy to find on your website can often be illegible and confusing on a small mobile device screen. Investing in mobile-friendly website design can make it easier for customers to see all the outstanding menu items you have to offer, and increase the chance of drawing them in – and keeping them coming back.


About the author

Denis Hancock is Director of Consumer Insights at BrandSpark International, a leading brand, marketing, and product innovation research company with over 10 years experience in the restaurant industry.

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