Increasing Sales with Strategic Menu Design
by Derald Schultz
A menu is much more than a bill of fare; it is a carefully planned guide to direct the patron to your most profitable items and maximize sales. You have an average of two minutes to make the sale, so layout strategy and subliminal suggestions play key roles in developing a profitable menu. This article is directed at restaurateurs who will either hire a design firm or those who want to develop them in-house. The “Marketing Tips” section will be especially useful for critiquing existing menus and considering a redesign.
Purchasing Professional Design
A menu redesign will increase annual sales an average of 6% and as high as 10%, so the design fee should be considered an investment rather than a cost. Design firms are a time-based service industry who offer three things; service, quality and price. However, client can only choose two. For example, if quality and price are your top criteria the service level will be reduced to concentrate on the creative quality of the project to keep the cost down. Those who understand the value of professional design typically chose service and quality.
When searching for creative services you have two options; independent designers and multiple-person design firms. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I cover this in detail in an article entitled, “How to Choose a Graphic Design Firm”. The heart of any successful design is the designer him or herself. With a little effort and the following tips you can find the right fit.
In short, you should interview at least three creatives. Look at their portfolio for talent level and ask them to explain the solutions they have developed for other clients. Second, ask them for their hourly rate and a detailed proposal. The latter should cover topics such as current situation, project goals, competition, audience profile, creative strategy, process, time frame, and billing schedule. Finally, ask yourself if you would like to work with this person. Chemistry, professionalism, and good personal skills all play a part in the creative process. In a nutshell, they should understand you, your business goals, and have the talent to do it.
Lastly, do not discount designers and design firms who have not produced a menu in the past. An experienced company will research your industry and the specifics of menu design to develop a creative solution. They may even be willing to discount their project fee to have a menu in their portfolio, since it may bring them future assignments elsewhere, so use it in negotiating the fee.
Developing a Strategic Menu
There are a number of issues to consider in creating a profitable menu, but the primary goal is to increase sales of your most profitable items. Second, it should reflect the personality of the restaurant by taking into account the interior design such as color, materials, textures and the general “feel” of the establishment.
Two examples of this are clients of mine; one being a Tex Mex restaurant chain and the other a gourmet catering service. Posados Restaurants is a growing company with 13 locations across the south. The exterior and interior design is unique to each location, although they all fall within a “collage style” in the use of colors, materials, and decorative items. The owners wanted to communicate the same effect for their menu, along with the feel of Mexican movie posters from the 50’s and 60’s. As a general rule, no more than three typefaces should be used on a menu, but using a different one for each section was appropriate in this case.
My other client is an upscale catering service that targets corporate and social events. Since they go to their customers we needed to convey a sense of elegance and fine dining through their menus. This was accomplished for Fifth & Gourmet by the use of tasteful images, a rich color palette, and classic typefaces.
The following are standard guidelines for developing a menu, or critiquing your current one to see how it measures up. If you are experiencing stagnant or declining sales, it may be worth considering a redesign.
Theme – Select colors, materials, paper textures, icons, and typefaces that reflect the interior/exterior and personality of the restaurant.
Color – Depending on your budget and the frequency of menu changes; use full color for upscale menus that only change once or twice a year. One, two, or three colors are appropriate for most local restaurants and menu covers can reduce printing costs by using a standard grade paper. Menu shells can also be printed and run through a laser printer to further reduce costs.
Typefaces – Generally, use a maximum of three typefaces; one for section heading, one for body text and another to highlight high-profit or specialty items. Also consider the lighting and average age of your patrons. Do not go lower than 11pt type for menu items and pay attention to the contrast between the typeface and paper.
Layout – Patrons tend to go to the top right half of the right panel first on a two panel menu (like opening a book), so place your higher profit items in this area. People tend to scan this type of menu in a reverse “Z” pattern. Use the bolder weight of a typeface, colors or background tints to highlight high profit items. Put in as many items as possible and do not waste valuable real estate with descriptions of common items; a hamburger is a hamburger. Devote space to signature and unfamiliar items to entice the patron.
Make each section easily discernible and lay them out in a sensible fashion (e.g. appetizers, entrees, desserts, etc...). Design the menu to easily change pricing. Do not arrange menu items by price with the most expensive at the top in descending order. It forces them to read more items and requires greater effort to shop by price.
Wrapping it up – Proof read, proof read, proof read. Did I say proof read? Nothing leaves a poor impression like “Samlon” instead of “Salmon”. Patrons are likely to question your attention to detail when preparing their meal!
Printing – Select the highest quantity needed for the next 3-6 months to keep the cost per unit low. If patrons will be handling the menus, select a durable stock and regularly inspect them; a dingy or tattered menu leaves a bad impression. Consider coating or laminating them so they can be cleaned. Printing on plastic is another option if it fits in style wise.
About the Author
Derald Schultz is the founder and principal of Mediarail Design, Inc. His company provides creative services for print and web media to clients across the country. Mediarail Design also provides prepress and printing services. He can be contacted at 678-985-9981 or via email.
Derald is also the contributing news and articles editor at Creative Latitude.