The Psychology of Menu Design: Reinvent Your 'Silent Salesperson' to Increase Check Averages and Guest Loyalty
By Dave Pavesic, Ph.D., FMP
The menu is the most important internal marketing and sales tool a restaurant has to market its food and beverage to customers. It is the only piece of printed advertising that you are virtually 100 percent sure will be read by the guest. Once placed in the guestís hand, it can directly influence not only what they will order, but ultimately how much they will spend. Menu design directly influences sales revenue. Management is constantly forecasting business volume to estimate how much to buy, keep in inventory, and prepare. A properly designed menu makes these kinds of decisions easier and more accurate.
A well-designed menu can educate and entertain the customer as well as be a communication, cost control, and marketing tool for your restaurant. The menu is designed to help the guest decide what to order. When you strategically place menu items on the menu, you will sell more of them than if you placed them randomly.
Well-designed menus market the food the restaurant prepares best and wants to sell by making those items stand out from the others.
Your Restaurantís Business Card
The menu design must be congruent with the concept and image of the restaurant and effectively communicate the overall dining experience to the guest. Think of your menu as your restaurant business card. It introduces the customer to your restaurant, and its design should complement the décor, service, food quality, and price range of the restaurant. The menu design should incorporate the colors and graphics that the customer sees from the table. A properly designed menu can help any restaurant ó whether it be a fine-dining, casual-theme, fast-casual concept, or fast-food ó achieve its sales goals, keep its costs in line, increase its speed of preparation and service, and return a desired average check. This does not happen by accident; it must be planned during the design of the menu or menu boards.
Too often menus are not given the time and budget that such an important marketing tool deserves. Many of the popular and high-volume dinner houses have menus that if their logo and name were removed, the image created in your mind from the menu would be severely understated to the extent that you might not even consider going there to eat. One of the services provided to out-of-town visitors by hotel concierges is making recommendations and reservations at local restaurants. They often display menus for the benefit of visitors, who make dining decisions solely on the basis of the menu.
The same care, time and effort should be given to the task of menu design and production as is given to the design and décor of the dining room and kitchen. The menu content is the product of the chef and owner who have in many instances spared no expense in the dining room décor and the kitchen equipment. They are highly respected professionals in the restaurant community and yet their menu design gives the impression that they ran out of money or that the menu design was just an afterthought. Considering how much the restaurant depends on the menu, it is astonishing that many menus do not reflect the level of professionalism and knowledge of the owners, chefs and managers.
More and more restaurant companies have come to realize and understand the importance of proper menu design on check averages. Several years ago, Houlihanís revamped its menu with the goal of increasing check averages. The menu was designed to lead the customer from the specialty drinks on the cover to appetizers on the first page to the complete dinners inside. Its old menu, by contrast, lumped all types of items next to one another on the same large fold-out page. This, it was felt, might have somewhat deflected dinner sales by making it easy for the customer to select only an appetizer.