Menu Ideas and How to Make them Work

Creative restaurant menu ideas to help you sell more and make your customers come back
Restaurant management May 18, 2020
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Your menu is the last selling pitch you make to your customer. You’ve already got them by the door and now is your chance to sell them on your best appetizers, drinks, dishes, and desserts. Our team at Choco is here to help chefs and managers with some restaurant menu ideas.

Basic restaurant menu ideas

Will most of your customers choose a safe-option meal or your new masterpiece special? This depends heavily on the presentation and organization of your menu. Of course, taste is king in the restaurant business. But customers can’t taste what isn’t presented to them clearly and attractively on a menu.

Monitoring and evaluating your menu’s effectiveness is something any good restaurant owner should do. Let’s take a look at some restaurant menu ideas and how you can put them into action.

1. Simple but attractive

As a rule of thumb: you don’t want to confuse your customer or overwhelm them during their choice. Presenting too many dinner options will often lead to a bewildered customer picking a “safe” option. This is a double loss for you as an owner. Indeed, first, your customer has likely chosen a less profitable item from a business perspective.

Second, you have lost the chance to showcase one of your top dishes. Moreover, studies have shown that including a dollar or euro sign with the price, tends to scare customers away from meals and again resort to a safe and cheap option. It is assumed that everything costs money in a restaurant. But reminding them of that fact can cause a customer to think twice about a dish that they may really want and enjoy.

From an aesthetic point of view, you want your menu to be easy to read and balanced. If you jam everything onto one page using all 8-point font with zero blank space on the page, your customers will again be confused, frustrated, and not in the right mindset to order a little extra. This is an extreme example. But errors are often made when attempting to find the right balance of text, pictures, and blank space that captures the spirit of the restaurant.

Menu styles vary significantly depending on the style of the restaurant and clientele. As an owner, you should know your target market and whether a chic or family-friendly dining experience serves them best.

2. Guide your customer

Menus are at a very basic level, a guide to an eating experience at your restaurant. Help your customers out and steer them in the right direction to having a great time at your location. Depending on the restaurant, it’s okay to add a picture here and there. But you don’t want your menu to look like a picture book.

Pictures are best associated with items that pique a customer’s interest, but they’re not quite sure what it is. Without a picture, a customer can find something else to order. This will create a low demand for your item. An attractive picture of the item assures the customer that they will enjoy this food or drink. This tip connects well with the not-so-adventurous clientele. An appropriate arrangement of your items is also something to seriously consider.

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A well-designed menu leads the customer’s eyes seamlessly from drinks to appetizers, to food, to dessert. It should be reflecting the progression of a typical ordering process. But this isn’t set in stone. Some restaurants have found that customers often skip over the appetizers section without even looking at it.

A solution is placing the appetizers on the same page as the main dishes (but in a column on the edge of the page). If you are selling lots of appetizers, great, no need to adjust. Sometimes, you have to get a bit creative if items are not selling as much as you think they should.

3. Keep it on-brand

Restaurant-goers often have a preconceived notion of what to expect when looking at a certain restaurant idea. Most don’t enter a white tablecloth establishment looking for a burger and fries. They often have something a little more exquisite in mind. Similarly, if you sit down at a Mom and Pop style diner and only see delicate entrees far north of what you had expected to pay, you’re going to be thrown off and unlikely to return.

Menu items should reflect the needs of your target customers and be priced appropriately given the market and your competitors. “Old Favorite” type dishes are great and never go out of style. Balancing those with some “newer dishes”, can keep those adventurous guests coming back, excited to see what you have this time.

4. Highlighting items

You should always be evaluating what is working, what is not working, and looking at ways to innovate your restaurant menu ideas. A simple and effective way to improve menu quality is to highlight items that you feel are underperforming.

Let’s say you have a lovely oven-roasted chicken dish that customers seem to be passing over, in favor of other simpler dishes. You have a low cost of goods sold on the oven-roasted chicken, compared to other meat items, and you want to jumpstart its sales and maximize the profits from it. There are a number of different ways to highlight this item.

Attaching a picture (as mentioned above) is one way. Using a border, larger font, or different text colors are popular methods of bringing attention to a specific meal and have it grab more eyes than the others surrounding it.

Attaching a special icon or quote to a meal can also boost sales. For example, “Chef’s choice” or “house favorite” can help a dish stand out. And potentially, tip the scales in its favor when a customer is deciding between two meals.

5. Location, location, location

There’s a tendency to always add new items at the bottom of lists; but in this case, that’s not the best approach. Whether it’s lunch, dinner, drinks, appetizers, or desserts, a customer almost always looks at the middle or top of the page first. Human instinct tells us that we should not put a new item at the bottom.

Some customers do take a thorough approach to menu reading and we should not discount that. But items in which you would like to boost sales are ideally located somewhere around the middle or top of the page. They should be noticed right away before the customer decides on another option. An off-the-menu special is a common tactic employed by restaurants.

Specials are often communicated verbally to the customers by a waiter or waitress, or temporarily written somewhere in the restaurant. It gives the customer a sense that they are getting something that is not available on other days and will create a unique experience for them.

The special is a great method for sustaining customers. Indeed, they will often inquire in the future about specials and remember when they are offered. It’s a great chance to capitalize on a buy-in-bulk purchase or a seasonal product from a local food supplier.

6. Get descriptive

The description of a menu item is a chance to really sell your food. As a small business owner, you know exactly what goes into your recipes and how delicious they really are. This is your opportunity to let your passion show and to inspire your customer – keeping in mind they still know what they’re ordering.

Chain restaurants and franchises often possess a disconnect between management and those preparing the food. This is where small restaurant owners have an advantage. Your ability to alter the menu is not thwarted by management, you have a close personal connection to the food, and you can describe it better than anyone.

Customers can sense a restaurant’s pride and dedication to making their food and a well-written food description can express just that. It can also make a customer’s mouth water and remind them to come back and try another menu option at a later date.

7. Get versatile

Small restaurants are often using fresh local ingredients that their customers love. But sometimes this can present challenges with the food going bad. A savvy restaurant owner can adapt its menu to include items that are being used in other dishes to avoid waste.

If after a period of time you realize that on random days mushrooms are going to waste, perhaps you can alter another recipe on your menu to include mushrooms. Careful reflection on your practices and creativity with your recipes can lead to an increase in efficiency in your restaurant.

8. Local sells

Most people nowadays are happy to spend a little extra if it means supporting local farmers and food suppliers. Although you may use only local ingredients, customers might assume otherwise. It’s a good idea to specify on your menu where the main ingredients in a recipe are grown or produced.

Make sure your connection to local food is visible when presenting your restaurant idea – either included in the meal description or somewhere close by. Tucked away on the back of the menu in small font doesn’t showcase your commitment to the local market as well as it could.

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