How restaurant menus can boost sales

Rearranging the menu can be an effective way to turn a quick profit. Share this article

Restaurant professionals, from chefs and managers to graphic designers, spend a great deal of time creating the perfect menu, and there's a reason for it. The menu makes all the difference when it comes to a new dish selling or flopping. From the font to the spacing, every little detail counts.

Awaken the senses
The menu is the biggest influence on the customer, asserted the National Restaurant Association (NRA), because it's the only tried and true form of communication that the client can scrutinize from front to back. He or she can hold it, read it and talk about it – engaging many of the senses – which plays a crucial role in sales. 

This notion has been around for quite some time. In 2011, the Harvard Business Review explained that touching products gives people psychological ownership of the items. Multiple studies have been conducted to prove this point, and retailers and other businesses began adopting strategies to align with the belief.

As the HBR pointed out, Apple allows consumers to directly interact with the products in store, perhaps because they're aware of its effectiveness. If so, it hasn't worked out half bad for them – the company was recently named the world's most valuable brand by Forbes. 

Reinforces brand
In the restaurant industry, the menu is a crucial factor in a company's brand. It's important to note that an establishment's branding starts the moment a person learns about the restaurant and continues when they walk in the door. The menu is supposed to act as a reinforcement, Marek Hosek of Mhdezign, a Chicago visual-communication studio, told the NRA. 

"The restaurant's external brand and internal identity must be intact before any colors and fonts appear on a menu," Hosek explained to the NRA. "That then will drive the menu, which must reflect everything about the restaurant, including the building and the dining area."

This tidbit of information is so important for restaurants to have prior to setting up a menu because the brand will help them determine the audience, which will shape all of the menu decisions. For example, a trendy speak-easy bar that just opened will likely target millennials. The ambiance might be darker and the menu might be printed in a sexy font. In another instance, if the establishment receives a lot of elderly clients, they might wish to install brighter lights and use a font that's large and legible.

Linguists say patterns emerge
In addition to branding, establishments leverage menu design to make a quick profit based on strategic layout and vocabulary choices. The Washington Post quoted Dan Jurafsky, the author of "The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu," to explain how establishments can drive sales based on wording.

Quick tricks for all restaurants
As the Post reported, Jurafsky indicated a number of little ways that restaurants can design a menu to make food and drinks sound more enticing to the guests. A big money maker is listing the origin of the food on the menu. He explained that very pricey places state where the food came from at least 15 times more frequently than less expensive restaurants. 

Lustrous long words
What's more, the average price of a dish seemed to increase with every letter, meaning that the length of the word could modify the price. Tacking on one extra letter could bump a plate of food up 18 percent, he affirmed. Restaurants that wish to try this method out, might consider removing words like "sides" and instead replacing them with "accompaniments," because Jurafsky explained these can get people to spend more money.

"Every increase of one letter in the average length of words describing a dish is associated with an increase of 18 cents in the price of that dish!" Jurafsky wrote in his book.

Space and organization
Don't neglect the fact that what your menu doesn't say is just as important as what it does. Just like any other print product, magazine or newspaper, the layout is crucial to comprehension. Be sure it looks neat and clean, and use white space to your advantage.

As the NRA stated, a profitable menu layout typically lists the restaurant's best selling items at the top and very bottom of the page, which means putting other items in these positions can make them transition into the establishment's biggest money maker. 

It can take a little time to find what truly works for your menu. If your establishment is in the experimental phase, consider reprinting menus on a weekly or monthly basis until you find what works best with your clients and menu items. 


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