How to Create a Menu that Rakes in Profits

Closed black menu
Is that menu full of Jedi Mind Tricks or is it outdated? Image: dmbaker / iStock / Getty Images Plus

You look at your menu over and over until you feel like your stare could burn a hole in it. Hey, it looks good. Maybe even great. You decide it’s ready to be rolled out and you decide to launch. Sales jump and you get excited. Then....they seem to level off. What happened?

A fresh menu design is like buying a new car. At first, it’s the greatest thing in the world to you. After a few months, a lot of that newness has worn off. Your menu can be a similar roller coaster of emotions. Time to get your menu mojo back!

First Things First

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You must know the cost of every item on your menu (that means both food and beverages—no shortcuts here). Not knowing your costs is really not knowing your business. I asked a recent audience (about 150 people) that I was speaking for what I thought was a straightforward question: “How many people in the room know the cost of the items on your menu?” I was shocked to see only 10 hands in the room rise. [Insert shaking head in disbelief here.]

With the advancement in technology almost every point-of-sale system on the market has a food costing program built into the software. Every major broad line food distributor also has a food cost program that they offer to their customers. There is no excuse not to have a program that can help your nail your costs down. No excuses. If you have been slacking on updating your recipe costs for both the food and your bar, then it time to cowboy up and take some action.

Do Your Research

When you have been using the same menu for years you might be stuck in a little design rut, so fire up your internet and start stalking other restaurants! Not get a restraining order stalking, more like just checking out the competition.

I can’t believe I am going to throw this out there, however, don’t overlook Pinterest. Yes, the website has tons of samples of restaurant menus from around the world, and there are bound to be a few that spark some creative inspiration.

Jot down some notes and take in the look of some new ways to amp up your brand.

Less is More

Particularly when it comes to modern menu design. As a society, we have become a people of instant gratification. The younger generations are very used to having access at their fingertips an answer (or a video) on just about any topic they want to inquire about. They move fast and your menu needs to keep up. Drop some of the longwinded, drawn-out menu descriptions that are overused and overplayed.

How about, “Seared to perfection”? Or the very popular, “A ‘delightful balance’ of vodka, lemonade, and cardamom simple syrup.” [Insert snoring sound here.]

Guests do love transparency on a menu, so just be straightforward and give it to them:

The House Burger

8-ounce Sisters Ranch Grass-Fed Ground Beef + Red Curry Mayo + Sliced Bosque Farms Tomato + Organic Pea Tendrils

No need for all the fluff. Be short and to the point. People don’t read menus like they once did. They tend to scan them, so make it easy for them to find out what they need to know. Use fonts to simplify your menu like below.

Be Bold

A favorite Jedi Menu Mind Trick I use is called the Bold Word. Since people don’t really read menus and tend to scan over them, help them by bolding out key words that get attention.

Look at these two menu items:

Sweet Potato Calamari

Judith Point Calamari + peppadews + peanuts + red curry aioli

Sweet Potato Calamari

Judith Point Calamari + peppadews + peanuts + red curry aioli 

Making it easy for your guests makes it easy for them to make decision, and that is what your goal should be. Avoid the paradox of choice issue where they have so many choices that it actually increases anxiety.

You see it on the faces of guests who reach that point where they can’t decide, which is called threshold. They look confused or frustrated and then will say something like, “Just give me a burger.” 

Paradox of choice brings out the comfort zone in people; they fall back to a decision that is easy. 

Take a look at your menu right now. Does it need to evolve? Maybe it’s time for you to get out of your comfort zone and give your menu a new and improved look. Remember that insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Your menu is your number one marketing and profitability tool you have! Treat it with some respect.