Drink Menu Dynamics

All too often, restaurant operators spend a bulk of their time perfecting the food menu, and beverages become an afterthought. The result is a sparse or Menu readingnonexistent drink menu that keeps customers in their comfort zones (house Chardonnay and domestic draft), and squashes any chance to make easy money. For bar owners, the menu often tries to convey way too much information and doesn’t fulfill its mission: to sell profitable drinks. Don’t leave money on the bar; revamp your menu today to realize more profits tomorrow! Here’s how:

Know Your Establishment
It should go without saying: Understand your clientele. Do you cater to a business crowd after work in a metropolitan area or late-night graduate students in a college town? Do people come to your bar to meet and eat or just party with friends? The drinking occasion — and who is doing the drinking — is the first step in developing an effective menu.

Next Level Marketing, a marketing and promotion agency based in Westport, Conn., that focuses on building beverage alcohol brands in bars, clubs and restaurants, conducted a research study earlier this year to find out what consumers want to see in the way of beer, wine and spirits on the drink menu. A key finding was that people want more cocktail listings and specialty drinks, elements that are influential in determining their orders. For operators, this revelation presents the perfect opportunity to showcase unique selections and creative cocktails.

How Many Menus Are Too Many?
How often have you encountered menu overload during your own evenings on the town? Mark Vidano, vice president of operations at MarkeTeam Inc., a Mission Viejo, Calif.-based beverage-promotions development firm, says too many menus create stress on a guest. The best option is to streamline menus by having one extensive beer, wine and cocktail menu and a separate food menu in which operators can highlight a few signature drinks or pairing suggestions. Each customer goes to an establishment with a different idea of what they want in mind, so two menus cover the bases. “A guest that is in a restaurant to celebrate and relax may take time to peruse everything, while someone that is there for a ‘utilitarian’ meal may move the beverage menu off the table and only look at the dinner menu,” Vidano points out.

Choices, Choices…
This is where the phrase “menu engineering” comes in. Before you start revamping, run a product-mix report to see what sells and what categories deserve more focus. For example, if bottled imported beer is growing, you safely can assume that adding new brands or switching to draft will make customers happy because you’re providing more of their favorite drink options.

Pay special attention to the most popular and profitable cocktails; these are great signature drink opportunities. Basic bar calls, such as a Rum and Coke, may sell but ultimately garner lower profits and are not worthy of real estate on a drink menu. One exception would be a classic with a twist, such as a Bloody Mary made with special spices or garnishes unique to your bar. If your star bartender creates a new cocktail with a low profit margin and high selling potential, take a chance. The best-selling drinks often are the ones staff members love to suggest to customers. Overall, don’t overwhelm your guests with choices, but don’t underwhelm them either. Have at least eight to 10 types of each beer, wine and cocktail based on an analysis of your establishment’s sales.

ABCs of Design
Once you have the blueprint for a successful beverage program, it’s time to build the menu. Following is a roundup of important things to consider while designing your menu:

• In menu science, it’s common knowledge that the eye typically reads the top right page first. There are many aspects to a person’s decision on what drink to order, says Mike Bartels, senior project manager at EyeTracking, Inc., a San Diego-based provider of eye-tracking services, software and expertise. “The visual flow of the menu is definitely one of them. “

• Boxing text makes it stand out; a box is the perfect place for a signature cocktail or drink special. Be wary of trying to make everything stand out or items will be competing for attention, and none will really win.

• Appealing photos can be a useful selling tool, but sometimes imagery is overstated. “We’ve found that, in many cases, white space can be just as effective as imagery in drawing the eye to a featured item,” Bartels says.

• Menu color and font choices often are over-analyzed; the truth is there is no magic formula on what works best. Much depends on context. Bartels explains: “The only way to know how the eye will respond to your menu design is to test it with real customers.”

• Always include drink prices. Vidano’s research has shown that people are intimidated to order more than one cocktail when the price isn’t included on the menu. Additionally, he says pricing beers from most expensive to least expensive typically leads to a more profitable purchase. Price differentials between wine types should be at least $1 to ensure customers see a distinction. Lastly, research conducted by menu engineer and owner of Pasadena, Calif.-based Menu Technologies Gregg Rapp shows that dollar signs are a surefire way to encourage people to focus on price — often the cheapest. Instead, list items without signs or decimals to understate cost and keep the focus on the item description.

Drinkable Descriptions
Why do food-menu descriptions often make mouths water, while cocktail menus tend to list ingredients? Turn the tables on your guests by offering a visual “taste” of the drink. Using the word “fresh” is an important factor in drink-purchase decisions, according to the Next Level Marketing study. These days, consumers often expect fresh-squeezed juices and handpicked herbs in their drinks; don’t be shy about highlighting these special touches.

The popularity of bottled “skinny” cocktails has led to listing drink calories on menus. Is this a good idea? Next Level Marketing research actually showed 58% of consumers didn’t want to see calories listed next to their Margaritas, especially females. It’s safe to assume going out for a drink is a feel-good social activity for most people, and calorie counts are an unwelcome wet blanket. That said, it’s not a bad idea to call out a low-cal offering. Just don’t hit them over the head with the actual calorie counts on the full-fledged versions.

With the rise in local breweries and distillers across the United States, it’s also a good idea to mention an item’s origin, especially if it’s a regional brand produced near your location. People feel good about supporting local businesses and often are willing to pay more for these handcrafted beers, wines and spirits. NCB

Seeing Menus Differently

What is eye tracking and how does it work? Using cameras to track the visual behavior of a menu reader, eye tracking offers insight as to what consumers read first and ignore all together. Companies like Eye Tracking, Inc., a San Diego-based provider of eye-tracking services, software and expertise, gather data, interpret the results and provide recommendations on how to build a better menu. This is important for a variety of reasons: Do customers look at your higher profit menu items? Do they linger on prices? How long does it take for them to choose an item?

Below is simulated data that would be part of a full Eye Tracking evaluation, in addition to visual behavior and purchase choice data. Mike Bartels, senior project manager at Eye Tracking, Inc., explains the function of each:

Fixations: “This shows the visual flow of the consumer as they view the menu. Where is the eye drawn first, second, third, etc., and how long does it linger in each location?”


Heat Map: “This is an aggregate view of visual attention of many consumers viewing the menu. The hot and cold spots demonstrate which areas receive the most attention and which ones are ignored, respectively. It’s a nice way to show how design impacts visibility of particular sections of a menu.”

Heat map

Spotlight: “This is another view of aggregate attention. It illustrates nicely which items are most heavily considered [illuminated in the graphic] as the consumer views the menu.”


For more information, visit EyeTracking.com or call 619-265-1840. The sample menus are for illustrative purposes only and were provided courtesy of Grafton Street, Temple Bar and Russell House Tavern in Cambridge, Mass.


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