The Art of the Menu by Ann Elliott

26th February 2016

What do customers see when they look at a menu? What draws their eye: the prices, the specials, the cocktails? Designing a successful menu is much more than just listing what is on offer, and at Elliotts we have witnessed first-hand the difference a quality menu can make – both in terms of branding and potential earnings. Our latest menu project for a hotel chain delivered a 23% increase in profitability without amending any dish or altering any specification.

Our advice, having worked on menu design and layout for a number of high-profile hospitality brands in the UK, tends to fall within the following categories (not necessarily in this order).

Consider your stock: First things first, what is the menu made of? We start with the message our clients want their menu to convey and how it can best be reflected in the materials used. For a high-end French brasserie for instance, laminated wipe-down menus would be inappropriate. An organic juice bar might bolster its brand image (and save money) by printing on recycled stock. The quality of the physical menu plays an integral role in communicating brand image. 

Think about how customers interact with the menu: Some restaurants hand menus to their customers as they sit down. Others have menus on the table. Wagamama uses its menus as placemats, so customers are constantly in contact with sides, desserts and drinks while they eat. Different approaches benefit different styles of restaurant – consistency in format across a brand though is important.

Build on prime menu real estate: We have read the results of a number of eye-tracking experiments, which have proven, amongst other things, the eye is initially drawn to the top-right of the menu. This is where to put signature dishes, popular foods or dishes with the highest margins – it’s the first place customers look. People then tend to skip to the left hand side of the menu: starters go here.

Show us what you’ve got: Using photographs or images can increase item-specific sales by as much as 30%. This approach certainly does not suit all brands – fast food perhaps but not casual dining (on the whole). Whilst brands may not choose to put photos on their menus, customers are taking photos of their own and sharing them. Plate presentation has to be Instagrammable.

Have a way with words: The more descriptive a menu is, the better its contents will sell. On-trend adjectives such as “pulled” or “beer-battered” can increase sales by up to 27%. Descriptive copy (albeit not too flowery or over the top) leads customers to rate food quality higher. Good copywriting on menu descriptors is really imperative.

Reduce the focus on money: Focus attention instead on menu descriptions, eg don’t use pound signs in front of prices and don’t list them in a column. This layout is much easier on the eye and means customers choose their meal based on preference rather than price. 

Create negative space: An obvious tactic is to put a box around profitable items or promotions. The negative space draws customer attention towards these areas and increases propensity to purchase.

Make the most of recommendations: Our research has shown a “chef’s favourites” section or icon has a demonstrable positive impact on customer choice.

There is such a thing as too much choice: Studies have shown it is psychologically most effective to include between seven and ten choices per menu section. Customers are more likely to regret their decision when faced with too many choices – fewer options equals increased satisfaction. 

Have a benchmark priced product: Then ladder other menu prices up or down from this core price. This helps too when comparing prices versus competitors.

Menu “science” may be about capitalising on the customer’s biases and preconceptions, but it isn’t about forcing their hand. For me, a great menu is about carefully guiding the customer through the optimum dining experience. You make it easy for them, and they’ll make it easy for you.

Ann Elliott is chief executive of leading sector PR and marketing agency Elliotts – www.elliottsagency.com

To receive emails from us and keep up to date with the latest jobs and industry news, please complete the short form below.  We will never share your email with any third parties.

(*) required fields

1. Providing Visitors with Anonymous Access

You can access our Web site home page and browse our site without disclosing your personal data.

2. The services and links of our Web site

2.1 Our Web site does not enable our visitors to communicate with other visitors or to post information to be accessed by others.

2.2 Our Web site does not include links to third party Web service providers.

3. Automatic Collection of Information

3.1 We do not automatically log personal data.

3.2 We do not link information automatically logged by other means with personal data about specific individuals.

3.3 We use cookies to store personal data or we link information stored in cookies with personal data about specific individuals. We do so for the following purposes: * Technical administration of the Web site.

4. Data Collection and Purpose Specification

4.1 We do not collect any personal data from our visitors when they use our services.

4.2 We do not collect information about our visitors from other sources, such as public records or bodies, or private organisations. To access the table of personal data collected and purposes for which they are used, please click here

4.3 We do not collect or use personal data for any purpose other than that indicated in the table below.

4.4 If we wish to use your personal data for a new purpose, we offer you the means to consent to this new purpose: by indicating in one of our contact/data capture forms, where personal data is collected

5. Children’s Privacy

5.1 We do not knowingly collect personal data from children.

5.2 We do not take specific steps to protect the privacy of children who disclose their personal data to us.

5.3 We do not provide information about our personal data practices in relation to children on our homepage, or at those sites on our Web site where we collect personal data.

6. Disclosure and Visitor Choice

We do not disclose your personal data to our subsidiaries or other organisations.

7. Confidentiality / Security

7.1 We do not give visitors to our Web site the option of using a secure transmission method to send us their personal data.

7.2 We have implemented security policies, rules and technical measures to protect the personal data that we have under our control from:

(a) unauthorised access; or
(b) improper use or disclosure; or
(c) unauthorised modification; or
(d) unlawful destruction; or
(e) accidental loss.

7.3 All our employees and data processors, who have access to, and are associated with the processing of personal data, are obliged to respect the confidentiality of our visitors\’ personal data.

7.4 We ensure that your personal data will not be disclosed to State institutions and authorities except if required by law or other statutory regulation.

8. Privacy Compliance

8.1 There are no national laws or self-regulatory schemes applicable to our web site or organisation.

8.2 There are no global or regional regulatory or self-regulatory schemes applicable to our web site or organisation.

9. Privacy Support

9.1 If you have an enquiry or concern about our privacy policy, please contact: Recruitment Room on 0113 322 0660 or Email address: contact@therecruitmentroom.co.uk

9.2 We do not provide any other means by which visitors’ concerns may be addressed.