Tag Archives: marketing

Menu Marketing: Driving Sales, Add-ons and the Customer Experience

How to Write an Effective Menu

Whether you run a fine dining room, local sports bar or the concession stand at the ballpark, you need a little menu marketing to maximize sales. Your physical menu tells the story of your business and sets the expectations for level of service, food quality and even how the customer will tip. What does your menu say about you? Even if you have been open and serving for years, marketing consultants agree that a revamped menu with great food descriptions can increase your revenue over 10%. We’ve compiled some simple tips to help you make the most of your menu.

You menu design and copy say a lot about your establishment.

You menu design and copy say a lot about your establishment. (J. Kapusnak, foodiesfeed.com)

The Psychology of the Meal

For most establishments, you are trying to convince your customer to part with as much of their money as possible when dining with you. Here is where the psychology comes into play. To increase your per capita spending, experts suggest:

  • Do you need dollar signs? You see it at upscale dining restaurants all the time. But the Culinary Institute of America determined that prices without a “$” or the word “dollars” saw sales increase over 8%. It’s not spent money if there are no dollars!
  • When ala carte is important, separate the categories. You will encourage customers to eat more when appetizers, soups and salads each have their own section. Similarly, use a separate dessert menu.  If a customer eyes a delicious ending on the main menu, they may decide to not add a delicious appetizer at the beginning.
  • Put your most profitable items where the eyes naturally wander. Place those items in the first two positions at the top of a section, or as the last item. Most customers ignore the middle of the menu no matter what it contains.
  • Design is king. Draw attention to your specialty items by boxing them in, but don’t confuse your customer with too many or misleading pictures of your menu items. Make sure to leave ample amounts of ‘white space’ to keep your customer from becoming overloaded with information. Realize that customers usually look first at the center section of a three section menu or the right side of a two section menu. Make sure there is something that catches their eyes in those positions.
  • ‘Combo Meals’ can work in any environment. While you may not want to call the Filet Mignon a “#5 Value Meal,” people do like simple decisions to be made for them. Advertise your signature dish with a complementary signature side and maybe even a dessert and watch the customers gravitate to it. It’s not about the bundle savings (usually there is not any), it’s about making the ordering decision easy.
  • Create a popular dish by pairing it with a symbol. That ‘Chef’s Choice’ label wasn’t added because the chef loves his Chicken Parmesan – he loves the profit margin on it. Customers are drawn to labels because of a perceived prestige and will usually pay a premium to enjoy it.
  • Finally, use your words to build excitement in your food. But, that is so important that it deserves its own section.

Choose Great Words to Your Describe Food

What does your menu say about your place?

What does your menu say about your place?

You know that how you describe your menu items effects your customer’s buying decision. The right descriptive words can make and ordinary meal more extraordinary. As a simple example; how much more appealing does a Big Mac sound than a ‘double cheeseburger with special sauce’? Try adding some adjectives to uniquely describe your signature dishes or maybe incorporate some local flair or place names to your signature dishes. Powerful adjectives and descriptions could include: Aromatic, Caramelized, Fire-grilled or Grilled Whole.

Powerful adjectives can also make your signature dishes seem like exclusive experiences that cannot be found in any other restaurant. Be creative and memorable when turning your everyday appetizer into a special event. Surveys have also shown that customers are willing to pay a premium price for something they perceive as exclusive or ‘better here than anywhere else.” Plus, this makes it difficult to price compare your dish to a competitor’s similar one. You can raise your price point (and profits) with a few simple words.

Of course, if your restaurant has a theme – be sure to incorporate those quirks into both the names of your dishes and the descriptions. Don’t go overboard though. Be sure your dish names and descriptions accurately and concisely describe the food.  Nobody really wants to have to ask “what’s in the chef’s house dressing?”

Sell your Daily Specials with a write-in board.

Sell your Daily Specials with a write-in board from Central.

Finally, menu marketing isn’t just limited to for-profit establishments. On the School Nutrition Association’s website, they suggest renaming menu items to make them more appealing and thematic. One suggestion was to rename the lunchroom staple fruit salad ad “Fastball Fruit Salad” to promote a healthy and active lifestyle.

Tools of the Trade

Once you decide what to write about your food, you’ll need an equally appropriate way to display your menu. Turn to Central Restaurant and our large selection of menu covers, laminators and card displays and holders. Too casual for menus? Our Product Consultants can help you find the right menu or marker board to help you get your message across.  Give us a call at 800-215-9293 or start a live online chat with one of our educated consultants right now.

Twists, Turns and Trends for the Modern Food Truck

The original incarnation of a mobile meal was usually a late night last resort or a pit stop for lunch on a busy day, not necessarily somewhere you’d think of waiting in hour-long lines.  They were home to common street fare such as your average hot dog or maybe a generic sandwich.  No longer is any of this the case.   Food carts are now the trendiest hot spot, a place with loyal followers who expect nothing less than gourmet cuisine…at a reasonable price, of course.

FoodTruckToday you can truly get just about any type of delicacy just by walking down the street (and probably waiting anywhere from 10-40 minutes).  An article on Eater.com, says that the Rib Whip truck in San Francisco boasts it’s on-board smoker, to serve up pulled-pork and beef brisket.  To add even more variety to the bunch, Coolhaus, itself peddling gourmet ice cream sandwiches, has developed a food truck…for dogs.  The Phydough Truck, launched on January 8th in Los Angeles, serves up cookies, ice cream and bake-at-home dough in such flavors as Duck Fat, PB & Bacon and Foie Gras, all of which can be eaten by man’s best friend and their human.

Why the sudden shift to mobile food (other than the fabulous fare)?  Like everything else, the economy has had its effect on the restaurant world.  In a Los Angeles Times article, former Hermosa Beach mayor and current owner of Barbie’s Q, John Bowler, said that it cost only about $40,000 to open his truck about $160,000 less than a brick-and-mortar restaurant.   That’s not to mention that while most restaurants stress about location, location, location, if your place is on wheels, you can pick and go where the customers are.

Unique advertising and good timing can also be thanked for the boost in trucks in a downturn economy.  Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites have played a huge part in the transportation food industry.  Owners and workers can simply put up a status with today’s specials or tweet their lunch location, head there with their goods and (TA-DA!) throngs of customers.  Well, there is a bit more to it, but that is the basis of many of these roaming restaurant’s marketing plans.  John Ban, of West Coast Tacos in Indianapolis, said, “Social Networking has been a great advantage for our business because we have not spent any money on marketing.”  He went on to touch on just why this new tech tool is so invaluable.  “We have a more personal relationship with our customers through social media.  It allows us to interact with our fans around the city very easily,” said Ban.  However, like any business, especially a new one, timing is always the easiest in with an audience.  Ban’s West Coast Tacos, saw the food truck boom in other cities, like L.A., and felt the time was right to jump on the chance to be the first to start up the trend in Indy.

If low costs and cheap marketing are making you want to jump in your van and serve up some grub of your own, you may want to first know that there are some significant downsides the non-traditional restaurant scene as well.

The major bump in the road for so many vendors has been getting permits for serving in a vehicle.  Many cities have strict rules about what can and cannot be done inside a vehicle, which can put a damper on serving items that aren’t pre-packaged in a kitchen before the day begins.   In recent weeks, several articles have come up on crack downs on food trucks in Chicago.  One such article, on food.change.org, said that “Chicago officials claim that these anti-food truck ordinances (no altering food and parking up to 200 feet from a restaurant) exist in order to protect consumers’ health and safety.”  However, in Chicago and many other cities, a majority of the squabble has been that restaurant owners worry about having food trucks competition, park right outside their business and taking away customers.

Another obstacle the vehicles face is also due to that wonderful upside mentioned earlier: location.  While it’s beneficial to be able to cruise around to customers, being relatively unsheltered from the elements can pose a few problems.  Going out in the frigid, frosty mess for lunch can be a little less than inviting which cuts down on customers.  In an article in The Washington Post when asked how the cold has affected business, “Operators of four trucks say their sales have dropped by 40 to 50 percent from peak numbers.”  That isn’t even taking into account money lost on food, gas, etc. that must be spent on a daily basis to keep the business going and those inside the trucks warm enough to operate.

So far these obstacles haven’t stopped food truck operators from working on fresh and creative ways to keep on going.  In Oregon, many mobile businesses are attempting to get licensing to sell alcohol, according to OregonLive.com.   The article states that selling brews would give owners of food trucks the chance to “make a living in the increasingly crowded Portland food-cart industry while also attracting customers to neighboring mobile restaurants.”   And while not a possibility at the moment, there may even come a day when a restaurant may not only sport wheels, but also wings.  Recently an article on Curbed Los Angeles even reported that an architecture class at USC, taught by Jennifer Siegal, challenged students to create the future of the business.  Submissions included everything from wings that caught rain water for future use to a donut delivery system that will drive over a car and drop in pastries and coffee.

Until wings can be made small enough to prevent trucks from hitting passersby, before a new super social media site is created and pending any delicious new delicacies, the success of food trucks today and in the future can be summed up with this advice, courtesy of John Ban:  “Make sure your product is of very high quality, because the number one reason why our business grew was because our Tacos were made from the best ingredients and meats. This created numerous return customers for us and they spread the word about our Taco Truck. Word of mouth is the strongest form of marketing. People always listen to recommendations from another person, but people don’t always pay attention to commercials or advertisements.”

Marketing in a down economy

Here’s a bit of research I’ve been doing on marketing during tough economic times.

1. Trim the fat

Instead of focusing on how bad things are, try to identify opportunities unique to periods of economic recession. Let’s face it– we rarely make changes when things are going well. According to an article from Experience Thread, “during good times, fundamental problems are frequently ignored, like outdated products, services and technologies.”

It’s only when we are forced to scrutinize every expenditure that some of these redundancies and wasteful practices come to light. Look at where your money is being spent. What about your energy usage?

2. Emphasizing value and networking

The majority of articles I’ve come across focus on ways to cut spending without sacrificing quality; in other words, saving money in ways your customers won’t notice!

Don’t discount! Chain Leader firmly states.

Offering discounts boosts guest counts but also pressures margins and weakens image, the article said. Instead, sell gift card at 3rd party retailers. Host tastings or other special events that will offer customers more opportunities to come visit your establishment.

3. The Club Culture

According to Chain Leader, the loyalty program, or club, is a new trend restaurants are embracing. An email or loyalty program makes it easier to build a network with existing customers and gives them one more reason to come to you.

An article from DM News described efforts by Ted’s Montana Grill to use e-mail and social media to increase brand engagement and customer loyalty.

Their Thanksgiving e-mail invites people to sign up for a Facebook page where they can take surveys about how they like the restaurant. The Facebook page has different content than the e-mail and also encourages people to sign up to receive the e-mails. Both ends work to acquire and retain customers.

It’s a great way to talk to current customers and keep them involved with the restaurant and it’s a good targeted approach to reach guests and to build your list.

Ted’s also sends triggered e-mails for birthdays and anniversaries, as well as monthly newsletters about new menu items, gift cards, new retail items, promotions and events at their 57 restaurants across 19 states.

4. Revamp the menu

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, restaurants introduced a record number of new menu items during October, 2008.

According to a Technomic report, chain restaurants introduced a record-high number of limited-time offers and other menu additions this October as sluggish traffic prompted them to try new customer lures.

Other examples include marketing specialty, limited-time and holiday items for added variety.

5. Know thy customer

Last, and maybe most importantly, restaurateurs must know their customers.

MSNBC offered several tips for conducting customer surveys in order to understand your customers’ interest, goals, priorities and desires, and thus, create “laser-focused marketing that speaks directly to them and solves their specific problems.”