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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.