All About Menus

Image Source: Public School 702 via Yelp

It wasn’t all tastings and beverage trend discussions during the 2015 Beverage Executive Symposium. Ken Taylor of MarkeTeam addressed the subject of menus, menu engineering and trends in menu design. A menu that doesn’t fit your concept, is cluttered with items or provides too little information will affect your bottom line negatively. Ken and MarkeTeam have plenty to say about effective menu design.

Just like your logo, interior and exterior, design is incredibly important for menus. The first thing to keep in mind is that your menu should fit your concept. A disconnect between your venue and menu can translate into an unsatisfactory guest experience, failure to move signature items and the items you most want to sell, and a lower percentage of return guests. Hand-in-hand with that point is clarity. If your menu doesn’t provide enough information for guests to make informed decisions, fails to entice guests with informative and exciting descriptions, or is simply cluttered and confusing, you run the same risks as a menu disconnected from your concept. That isn’t to say that your menu has to be boring. In fact, one of the trends Ken pointed to was high design. The key to success when utilizing high design is to balance it with clarity of information and ease of understanding and reading.

Another trend worth considering when designing your menu is the color blue. According to some studies, blue causes the opposite reaction of the color red. Blue is tranquil, peaceful and can cause the body to release calming chemicals. This is great news when looking at another trend: calm. People want calm when perusing a menu, something that many owners and operators may not have thought of as a trend. A trend that has proved it has staying power is the marriage between rustic and contemporary, a design concept used to great success by many the craft cocktail bar and gastropub. Big also appears to be making a comeback, according to Ken.

Not big in terms of the number of food and beverage choices but rather big in terms of physical menu and font sizes, this trend can help you achieve clarity as it makes text readable and can be more comfortable in the hands of guests. A trend that seems to losing favor is technology. Tablets, in particular the iPad, were sizzling hot trends for a few model versions but it appears that the “cool” factor of using them as menus has worn off. One of the pitfalls of menus on tablet is that the person to whom the server hands the menu tends to take much longer to make choices and pass it off to the next person in their party because they’ve become distracted with playing around with the tech.

Regardless of whether or not you choose to adopt current trends when designing your menus, the keys to succeeding with menu design remain the same. When designing your menu, which will likely involve working closely with a graphic designer, it’s important to at least have a cursory understanding of the drivers of menu engineering. These are profit margin, signature experiences (specialty food and beverage items for which your concept is known), ease of execution, and providing that ever-important WOW factor. Item hierarchy, eye movement, highlighting and photography (which doesn’t work for every menu but can work for some casual and upscale concepts) are also critical elements of menu engineering. Perhaps the most critical takeaway of menu design is the paradox of choice. When provided with too many choices, guests face frustration and disharmony as they struggle to make a decision in a timely manner. This leads to rationale taking over, an increase in confusion and the guest feeling as though they’ve been deprived of personal satisfaction.

When it comes to the actual construction of your menu, durability and material choices are critical to your success. Your menus need to stand up your environment: they’ll face handling by staff and guests, wetness from beverages and some food items, spills, stains and other abuses. Your menu content will determine the binding, the volume of items will determine panel types (single, double or triple), and it’s important to look to the future in terms of menu changes and updates. Don’t skip over another important factor of menu design and construction: ease of storage. While menu design and engineering can seem overwhelming, we encourage you to digest this information, hire a talented graphic designer and have fun with the process.

Early bird registration is open for the VIBE Conference, during which you’ll have the opportunity to learn about designing all parts of your concept from industry experts!

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