Creating your menu can be one of the most fun parts of opening your restaurant, but it shouldn’t be treated as unimportant. While you may be tempted to treat your menu as an afterthought, you can hurt your business by not putting thought into how you design your menus. To help new restaurants, or locations looking to improve how customers see them, we are going to have a series of blog posts of “dos” and “don’ts” for designing menus.
One of the most common mistakes that new restaurants make, not only for their kitchen costs, but also their menu is having too many menu items. Some of the menu requests we get have so many menu items that the restaurants menus look more like encyclopedias than menus. With line upon line of different dishes, variants of dishes, and those unique items that MIGHT get ordered once or twice a year.
When creating your menu, the urge to put everything you do well on a menu is understandable. You have skill that you want to show the world, and you want to offer options, so the urge to list every dish you can make is tempting.
It is not our place as menu designers to tell you what will and will not sell at your restaurant. You are incredibly talented artisans with the knowledge of the food you want to share as well as the passion for what it is that you make. In a future post we will actually go into how your menu designer often knows next to nothing about what you serve and how that influences the design process.
I will tell you that over a decade of design work that the restaurants with encyclopedia sized menus often come and go in the industry. Jack of all trades, but masters of none, tend to not survive (for many reasons even more than just the menu).
First, start with your long list. Write down everything that you feel could be an item you would like to showcase in your restaurant. Then you need to pare that list down considerably with food order costs, dish messaging (does each dish follow the message of your restaurant?), and dietary options. If you have already been in business for a while, look over your past years sales and see what is ordered over and over again. Chances are good that the items you are making repeatedly are some of your best dishes.
Once you have your restaurant’s dishes, check to make sure that you have a list of items that reading through all the names and descriptions doesn’t cause you to start skimming the menu as you read. If you, as the person that makes the food, can’t read through the menu without skipping sections then there is no reason for you to expect your customer to do so.
From a customer standpoint, it may seem like the more choices, the better. The truth is that too many options can be overwhelming and cause your customer to have a less enjoyable experience. If your diners are forced to plow through an instruction manual just to find a dish they may find appealing, you are forcing a higher degree of mental labor and effort by your would be customers.
Instead, come up with a few choices that you know you can knock out of the park every time. You can offer specials to change it up and rotate through those other great dishes you cut from your list, but a few really good items is better than an encyclopedia any day.