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National Restaurant Association - Making your mark through menu design

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Making your mark through menu design

One key ingredient of restaurant success is so obvious that it’s sometimes overlooked: the menu. Building and presenting a winning menu can often be the difference between a restaurant that rings up sales and one that lags in revenue. While strategically whipping up your culinary calling card, examine the following angles:

Your menu is your brand rep

The only communication that 100 percent of your restaurant’s customers will see and consider, your menu greatly influences what they’ll buy and how much they’ll spend. It should reflect your restaurant’s look, credo and vibe.

 “Your menu is what you do. It’s your identity,” said chef Pat Weber, owner of Mise en Place hospitality consulting firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota and speaker at the 2015 National Restaurant Association Hotel-Motel Show menu-design educational session.

Always consider the market you aim to attract. You want to appeal to diners’ desires, make them hungry and move them toward a buying decision.

Simplifying your menu can accomplish this. Determine what core items will be your signatures. According to Weber, food trucks have propagated the laser-focused menu trend; customers are looking for high-quality, convenient eats and opportunities to customize dishes, either due to their own personal preferences or dietary restrictions.

Kitchen capacities matter

Before you finalize menu items, think about what your kitchen equipment and staff can handle. If a particular piece of equipment is in constant use for your most popular items, it may not be feasible to add more items that necessitate it.

“Most restaurant kitchens are designed by architects, not menu designers,” said Weber. “Remember to audit your facility to make sure menu items are balanced across your equipment. Is there crossover or bottlenecks?”

Analyzing the use of your equipment can also help you make food-buying decisions. You don’t need to buy product you cannot readily serve to your guests.

Provide a useful, pleasing visual

An excellent restaurant menu is clear, well-organized, persuasive and graphically engaging. When designing your menu, go with elements that will create a cohesive experience for your diners.

A starting point is researching the psychological effects of colors, and purposefully using those that fit the overall personality of your restaurant. As with professional graphics or photography, color can also draw attention to your highly profitable food items.

Keep font size at or larger than 12 points. Sans serif fonts – those without “feet” – are popular choices for menus. Do not use more than three different type styles, and avoid or be sparing with exotic typefaces, script fonts and italics.

Menu design draws some inspiration from newspaper layout, which puts the most important articles at the top right of the front page. Some restaurants place their most profitable items or specials in that spot. Elsewhere in the menu, items you want to sell the most should be shown in first and last position. These are typically your biggest sellers, so put careful thought into which items provide your greatest return. Another “power position” is the inside right page above the center. 

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