Have you ever arrived at a restaurant, been seated at your table, eagerly opened up the menu, and – cue the disappointed trumpets – wah wah. There are many ways the menu can disappoint. To name a few, there can be a huge lack of descriptions, unappealing or confusing dish names, low-quality images of the plates, and more. 

Did you know that menus are such an instrumental part of a restaurant’s success that there are lucrative careers in professional menu engineering? Creating your menu may not be as easy as you think and there are many different ways that updating your menu can lead to higher profits. By following these top tips you can make your menu better and easily increase sales and customer satisfaction, not to mention make your servers’ jobs a little bit easier. 

Use Pictures

Pictures, pictures, and more pictures! Most people are visual learners, so being able to see what they can order and eat is a great way to sell them on your top dishes with the best profit margins. Pictures can also help them to manage their expectations, assess quality, portion quantity, and help answer some questions that your server would otherwise have to answer. 

There are two caveats to this tip. The first one is that it is incredibly important that the pictures included are of high quality. This means it is definitely worth it to spend the extra cash on a professional photographer to capture these important pictures. If the food looks unappealing or washed out in the image your customer is more likely to take a chance on another dish, or possibly another restaurant altogether. 

The second caveat is that the plate of food in the pictures needs to adequately represent the plate of food that will be delivered to your diners. That is, be sure that you don’t oversell or exaggerate your food. If your chefs are under strict instruction to place just three croutons on the caesar salads, don’t pile on the croutons for the photoshoot. Doing so will leave your customers feeling deceived and dissatisfied.

Adjectives Are Your Best Friend

Use words that will help entice customers to value your dishes higher. Words such as savory, crispy, melting, farm-fresh, and spicy all are great adjectives that you can and should use to describe your food. These words are likely to elicit an emotional or even physical response (does anybody else’s mouth water at crispy bacon-wrapped cheese curds or is that just me?). 

To take it a step further, think about changing the names of your dishes to follow the branding or theme of your restaurant. An Irish restaurant may want to consider changing their Shepherd’s Pie to O’Brian’s Shepherd’s Pie, or their mint ice cream dessert to St. Paddy’s Mint Sundae.

A little wordplay can go a long way in terms of evoking emotions and including your customers in the story and experience of your restaurant. However, be careful not to take this too far. Some restaurants have been known to completely disregard accurate dish names and follow a theme of a TV show, pop culture references, or more. Would you be able to easily make a decision between Daenarys Targaryen’s Sandwich and The Red Wedding Salad? 

Be Up Front About Allergens

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, almost 11% of adults in the U.S. have some type of food allergy. Many customers with allergies spend much of their time scanning the menu for dishes that will be safe for them to eat, which can be a stressful experience for them. It is thoughtful and considerate to make ordering easier and safer by accurately describing each dish and even adding icons to dishes that have common food allergens, like cow’s milk, nuts, gluten, soy, or shellfish. Take these two variations of the same menu item, for example:

  • Shrimp Tacos – with a choice of beans or rice
  • Shrimp Tacos – crispy flour tortillas filled with spicy marinated shrimp, coleslaw, cilantro-lime sour cream, and pineapple. Comes with a choice of beans or rice.

Most people familiar with their food limitations will feel much more comfortable ordering the second option since it highlights what is included in the dish. A person with celiac disease will usually understand right away to steer clear of the flour shells, and a lactose intolerant diner will know to request that their server hold the cilantro-lime sour cream.

Some restaurants even go so far as to offer separate menus that are allergen-specific. Whether you choose to create a separate menu or incorporate allergy-friendly descriptions, doing so will facilitate easier ordering and will save your servers valuable time.

Showcase Your Seasonal Items and Specials

Have a new special? Don’t let it get lost at the bottom of your menu. Display that dish loud & proud! Ideally, you should place it at the spot which customers’ eyes gravitate towards first. Can you guess where this is? If you guessed the left corner (where we usually start reading in a book) you were wrong! It’s actually the top right corner. 

If you don’t update your menu frequently you can also include a separate mini menu that you can more affordably update as needed. Either way, be sure to let your customers know that these items are only available for a very limited time to encourage them to buy them while supplies last. 

Think About Updating Your Menu Today, Not Tomorrow

By testing out these new practices you are going to find out which ones boost sales, and which ones hinder them. So, give your menu a makeover at least as often as you change your car’s oil. This way, you are continually optimizing your menu for the best profits. If you are a DIY kind of restauranteur, by all means, feel free to take a stab at doing it yourself. However, if you have any reservations about implementing these tips you should probably hire a professional graphic designer or menu engineer. Did you know that just by placing a box around one dish, that item is likely to sell better? An experienced menu engineer would know that.