Menuing Cover to Cover

dining out

Dining out has become a global obsession and it can add an enjoyable facet to any lifestyle. In a world filled with excitingly diverse restaurants and celebrity chefs, diners have unlimited choices where to spend their time and money. Instead of an ordinary meal, they can find an extraordinary meal; a unique dining and sensory pleasing experience.  What separates you from the competition is your menu.

While the menu is only one part of the entire operation, it is a vital part. One of the most effective ways to grow your business is with your menu, therefore, you need a professionally designed and creative menu; one that makes a statement about the spirit, personality and culture of your restaurant.  Do not cut corners when producing the menu; nothing is worse than a great menu in a bad cover or vice versa. “You have to spend money to make money” and that old adage definitely applies to your bill of fare. Think of the menu as your most precious investment, and like any investment, it should be nurtured and protected so it will yield a high return. Even though the initial costs may be pricey, a well-designed menu speaks volumes about your venue.


Remember image is everything. Your menu defines your image and it must make a good impression. First and foremost it should be clean, in good condition, grammatically correct and free from typographical errors. If you do not care about the condition of your menu, then your guests might not care about eating in your establishment. When you consider how much a restaurant depends on the menu, this should go without saying.

Know your costs and how to manage your menu. You not only have to consider the costs of your menu items, but you must factor in labor and overhead while at the same time maintaining a competitive edge. To generate profits consistently for your restaurant you must plan ahead. Create a “smart” menu; one that will allow for an easy makeover in order to accommodate fluctuating food prices and seasonal products without having to recreate it or replace it.

Variety may be the spice of life, and your menu should have a nice mix, but too many choices can be overwhelming, unnecessary and costly. Know your target audience. The menu items must stay within the theme of the restaurant.  Many menus fail because they try to target too many people and as we all know, especially in the foodservice industry, you cannot please everyone. The objective of any menu is to get your customer to buy what you have to offer. A uniquely designed and well written menu will increase sales and brand awareness. Not knowing who your target audience is will prevent you from reaching these objectives.

Powerful adjectives that capture the essence of the dishes and explain the flavor, technique and ingredients will make the food more tempting and not only have an impact on what your guests order, but will significantly contribute to your bottom line. The descriptions should correlate to the price. The more expensive an item, the more descriptive it should be. Keep it clear and concise but do not overdo it. Diners may be more sophisticated these days, however, descriptions should not be confusing; do not assume that everyone looking at the menu is a “foodie”. You want to peak their curiosity and whet their appetites not overwhelm them. That being said, avoid the obvious. Using “fresh” will not add appeal unless you mean that literally, as in “fresh fish flown in daily” otherwise it should be a safe assumption that all the food you serve is fresh. Words like “grilled to perfection”, “tasty” and “yummy” are subjective and meaningless and will vary widely and depend solely on the diner’s palate and experience.

adjectives using for menuing

Words have power. Creative descriptions can make food sound appetizing and delicious without using the actual language. For example, a “Cheeseburger and fries @ $9.00” is a classic favorite but that description or the lack thereof does not start the saliva juices flowing, and paying nine dollars for what appears to be an ordinary meal seems expensive.  By changing it to “A Quarter Pound Sirloin Burger, grilled-to-order, served on a toasted sourdough bun and slathered with melted Cheddar cheese and sautéed onions, accompanied by a mound-full of spicy Cajun fries @ 8.99 “ not only makes the mouth water but is now worth the price. Placing the price at the end of the description, in the same color and letter type, sans the dollar sign, will keep the focus off the price and listing the item at 8.99 rather than 9.00 is easier on the eyes. Splitting hairs?  Perhaps, but the psychology works.

There is a definite art to designing a conceptually engaging and winning menu; it’s much like writing a book, but remember you are running a restaurant, not a library. While diners with menus are a captive audience, when they walk into your establishment they are hungry and most will spend about two minutes speed reading through it. Your menu is a reflection of the talent and creativity of your chef and his or her culinary team. Its purpose is to communicate what your restaurant has to offer; to guide your guests and make suggestions on what to order. The menu must be functional, easy to read and easy to handle. A menu that opens like a magazine is the most popular. It has a familiar feel and is the easiest to maneuver.

Positioning is critical.  Position the highly profitable items in the upper right hand corner where it will catch the reader’s eye. Less profitable items should be harder to find.  Research indicates that the majority of diners make their selections from the top and the bottom of a category; remembering the first two items at the top and the last item on the bottom. Therefore, items that boost sales and generate the greatest gross profit should be sited in these areas where they will be immediately noticed and retained. Group items logically.  Introducing menu items the way food is typically ordered is also an effective layout: appetizers first, followed by soup, salad then the entree and dessert last.  To increase profits significantly, dessert should be presented on a separate menu and offered at the end of the meal.  If a dessert happens to catch the diner’s eye when they open the menu, they may skip ordering an appetizer or they may order a lighter entrée.

You can take creative license with your menu but be consistent throughout.  “Pictures are worth a thousand words”.  If you want to entice your diners with mouth-watering pictures of your food, be sure the food that is delivered looks exactly like the pictures.  Boxes and borders, shading and highlighting, the use of different font sizes, colors and logos are all attention-grabbers. These types of graphics add visual flair, will make your menu more interesting and distinctive and help to market your signature dishes and the high-profit/low cost items. The more attention you bring to an item, the more it will sizzle with appeal but don’t overdo it.

Do not capitalize everything; capitalize the name of the dish, the region or location or a proper noun but the descriptions should be in lower-case; it is easier on the eyes.  Again, maintain consistency.

Promoting brand names on your menu will offer validity, and using names of “relatives” like “Mama’s old-school Marinara Sauce” and “Uncle Pat’s famous corned beef and cabbage” serve as a source of familiarity and comfort when selecting a menu item.

Educating servers as to which dishes are the most profitable is also an important part of “menuing”; it will increase check averages and the bottom line.  The servers should know everything about the menu and possess the skill and the personality to upsell it.  They need to know what ingredients are used, especially for those guests with food allergies, how the dish is prepared and as an added touch, they should know the beer and wines that pair the best.  A positive attitude, a well-groomed appearance, and confidence and enthusiasm in their pitch are also important factors in suggestive selling.

server explaining menu

Your menu is your moneymaker. If it is well crafted, graphically aesthetic, trendy and competitively priced, it will be a powerful marketing tool and directly impact revenue. If not, it will work against you. Do not promise what you cannot deliver to the table.


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