Have you ever thought about how important a menu is to a restaurant? It’s the first thing that guests see when they’re deciding where to go and what they see right before they order. “I think a good menu tells the guest exactly what they’re in for,” says Emily Callaghan, development consultant at Synergy Restaurant Consultants. She also works with hospitality brands to develop restaurant concepts. “You’re letting them know what kind of experience they’re in for and what they should expect.”
Restaurant menus are an important part of an overall guest experience but they’re often overlooked. There are ways to make sure that the menus at your restaurant are bringing in guests instead of turning them away. Below, Callaghan shares tips on how to write an excellent menu.
Step 1: Think about your brand and your customers.
“Every restaurant should not have the same approach to menu copy,” Callaghan says. The menu is really a reflection of what sets your restaurant apart from others. “It’s an expression of your brand and your food.” A sports bar and a farm to table restaurant shouldn’t have the same type of menu copy, she says. “At a sports bar you’re probably not going to need to list the farm that the chicken wings came from or that they’re organic,” she says. “Your guests will probably be more interested in how they’re cooked and prepared.” Your menu copy is a message to your guests about what your brand values and what they can expect.
Step 2: Use other restaurant’s menus as inspiration.
Is there a restaurant that you think does a great job? Look at their menu in detail and see what you think makes it successful, Callaghan says. “Look at concepts that inspire you and at your competitors,” she continues. This will also keep you in the loop on menu trends and what your competitors are doing. “If you respect a brasserie that’s four kilometres away, check out their menu and then check out a brasserie that’s 400 kilometres away so you get an idea of what cool things are happening.”
Step 3: Keep it simple.
When it comes to writing menu copy, less is more. “There’s no need to write a book or a recipe,” Callaghan says. Start with a dish name if it’s appropriate for your brand and then list the main ingredient, and three to four descriptors. “Sometimes chefs will call out specific ingredients in a sauce and that’s not really necessary,” she says. Callaghan recommends that chefs and owners writing menus use a bag of crisps as inspiration. “When you think about a bag of crisps they list the main ingredient, potatoes, first,” she says. Listing major components in order of prominence clues diners into what they should expect. “On a menu you should follow the same rules and put dish items in a reasonable order.”
Step 4: Monitor guest feedback to see if your menus are working.
Getting feedback from diners about the menu is a crucial element to a successful menu, says Callaghan. “If your guests are underwhelmed by a dish or they expected something different then you know that you need to adjust your menu copy.” It could be as simple as putting the dish components in a different order or it may require changing phrasing on the menu. It’s all about being in alignment with your guests. “If one guest says something then 40 have probably thought the same thing,” Callaghan warns. Also pay attention to how guests are ordering certain dishes to get an idea of how it should be placed on a menu. “If people are consistently ordering a salad and splitting it, or ordering an app as an entree then you know that you can re-merchandise those items to different parts of the menu,” she says.
A great resource to learn more about how your guests see your menu is online reviews. “Online reviews will give you an idea of what people remember from your menu after they have a meal,” Callaghan says. If you see ‘the steak dish’ or ‘the spinach appetiser’ on reviews then you know that that’s what people are remembering from your menu.
Step 5: Make sure menus are current!
Today’s diner makes their decision about where to eat by looking online. That means that your menu needs to be up to date so potential guests know what to expect. “It’s the restaurant’s responsibility to update the menu across all platforms,” Callaghan says. It’s one of the first interactions that a guest will have with your brand, so make sure it’s accurate.
Photo courtesy of Emily Callaghan