Smart Menu Design

Sell more with simple tweaks

Great restaurant menus are as different as the people who create them, but they all have one thing in common—they’re designed to sell.

Your menu is the one item that every single guest touches, every single time they visit you. It’s the first thing they see upon being seated, and it drives their dining experience. So if you haven’t taken a close look at it in a while… you should.

A few smart tweaks can make your menu work harder, encouraging guests to order your most profitable items that lead to higher ticket totals. Put a little psychology behind your menu and watch it work its magic. Here’s how:

  1. Put Things in Their Place
    Do you know that you make a huge margin on the fish tacos, or that people who order your signature burger always come back? Great—put those items in a box to draw attention to them, and place them strategically in the top right corner of your menu, where guests naturally look first.

  1. It’s Not About the Price
    Empower your guests to think about what they want to eat, instead of what they want to pay. “Menu descriptions should come from the chef,” explains Holly O’Dell. Design-wise, make sure prices are the same font and size as the rest of the item descriptions, and keep them in line with the text so it’s harder for customers to scan prices quickly. Also abandon putting prices in columns or using dotted lines to connect prices to menu items.

  1. Create a Decadent Experience
    Whether you run a family establishment or a world-famous fine-dining destination, your guests are likely to see their dining experience as a luxury. You can deliver on that by being strategic in your menu descriptions and having a handful of “upsell items”—appetizers, desserts, signature cocktails, etc.—that sound just as appetizing as your main dishes and can help boost your average ticket.

    Be conscious of where you place the most expensive item on your menu. While it’s true that guests will rarely order it, you can still use it to your advantage. Place your high-profit items near your most expensive dish—they’ll seem like affordable luxuries in comparison, and will be ordered more often.

  1. Make Your Specials… Special
    Guests are far more likely to order a new item if the perceived risk of not ordering it is high—i.e., they might miss out because it’s made with seasonal ingredients and will only be available for a few weeks. This concept works just as well in reverse—you can lower the perceived risk of ordering something new by making it an appetizer, so the portion size, price, and commitment level are less than they would be for an entrée.

The main takeaway here is that you don’t need to be a graphic designer to improve your menu. If you understand which dishes you want to promote based on profitability and their likeliness to draw guests back, you can supercharge your menu design to raise revenue as well as loyalty. The best part is, these simple changes won’t go out of style before your next menu reprint.

Want more great tips for optimizing your menu? Get them in this article from NY Magazine or download Swipely's presentation, “8 Astonishingly Simple Menu Tweaks That Boost Sales.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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