How to Write a Best-Selling Menu

Image Source: Heartland Brewery

A few simple tricks and following some rules can bring more profitability to your bar or club

Every bar and nightclub has a menu but many operators don’t give it enough attention. Think about it: This menu passes through the hands of almost every person who patronizes your venue. Isn’t it time to treat it with a little respect?

There are good and bad ways to write a menu. Let’s take a look at some of each.

Arlene Spiegel is a hospitality consultant in New York City and is a big believer in using your menu wisely.

“A menu is real estate and every dish has to earn its rent on it,” she says. “So the menus have to be positioned from a design standpoint, where you bring the most attention to the items that bring you the highest profit.”

The big mistake bar and nightclub operators make is using food/beverage cost percentages instead of gross profit margin to figure out the menu items they should highlight the most, she says.

“You may have a 30% food cost on a burger and a 50% cost on a steak dinner, but the person eating that steak will contribute a much higher net profit margin for the time the guest is spending in that seat.”

Don’t just focus on the high profit items, but also your signature items, Spiegel says. “Highlight exclusive items so you create a cravability and a stickiness in the customer’s mind and you become known for it. I would highlight or box those in some way — or even just raise the font up from 12 to 14.”

Keep your beverage names and their descriptions on different lines to allow for faster and easier reading, says Gregg Rapp, a menu engineer based in Palm Springs, California. He points to figures from the National Restaurant Association that show 70% of customers don’t know what they’re going to drink when they sit down at a table. “If they can order drinks faster they’re likely to order more because it’s easier and they don’t have to plow through the whole menu,” he says.

Group beverages or foods together, such as warm cocktails or sharing plates. “There could be other occasions where people just want to have fun,” Spiegel says, such as a flight of beer listed with a flight of pretzels with different mustard toppings. The menu, she adds, “should serve as a tour guide to help customers find solutions for different occasions.”

But keep each section small, Rapp says, with 5 or fewer items being optimal and 7 being the maximum.

If you offer desserts, keep them on a separate menu. “They should be with your port, dessert wines, coffee and tea, and this way you’re making them important and you’re not cluttering the main menu,” Spiegel says, “You’re also creating some excitement and importance after a meal. And you’re keeping the tables free of large menus.” This also increases the chance that customers will order a drink with their dessert, she says, so instead of winding down you’re extending the experience.

Spiegel’s a fan of rounding out your numbers — to $12 for example, rather than $11.50 or $11.95. “People know if it says 12 that’s what it costs. Don’t use dollar signs so it doesn’t seem like money so why clutter the page?”

Font is also important. Write in all upper case for items you don’t want to highlight; they are harder to read than upper/lower, Rapp says. And put standard items like Budweiser in a list to show they are unimportant.

“When possible, provide the halo effect,” says Spiegel, so highlight what’s good about your food or beverage. If beef is grass-fed, note it; if you grow the herbs for your cocktails, include details. “All of a sudden a mojito has a halo effect if you use your own mint.”

Don’t write too much. Write more about the more expensive drinks and dishes, but there’s no need to explain a burger, Spiegel says. Long menus slow service and lead to fewer table turns.

But do provide information, Rapp says. “You have to give people a reason to want to buy a particular drink from you. The more they can learn from you about that drink, the more they’ll remember you for it.”

Include a story with any menu items you can to make them memorable and elevate them from being a commodity, Rapp says. “If I say this cocktail is what the chef served at his wedding reception it has a story to it.”

Don’t be afraid of white space. “White space around an item means your eye will be drawn into it. It’s easier on the eye than work, which is reading,” says Rapp.

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