The art of writing a restaurant menu incorporates more than a nice layout: psychology and marketing both play big roles. While the local mom-and-pop restaurant may not have done a lot of research into how to sell more meals with the right menu design, you better believe that any big chain restaurant invests time and money into creating menus that make your mouth water and your wallet fall open. As a consumer, a little awareness of the strategies menu designers use can help you bypass all the marketing gibberish, letting you focus on getting the best value and the best meal. Here’s five.
- Half-way Down the Page: Depending on the size of the menu, there are hot-spots your eyes naturally fall on. On a one-page menu, the hot-spot is about halfway down the page, for instance. You’ll find two different type of dishes in hot spots — high-margin meals and signature meals. The signature meals are those that the restaurant knows it knocks out of the park — these are the meals that they bet will have you coming back time and again. Price and even cost-margin aren’t major considerations for these dishes because a restaurant owner can usually assume that if he can get you back in the seat time and again, you’ll keep spending money at the restaurant.
- High-Profit Margin Dishes: The second type of dish that is typically highlighted are those particularly profitable for the restaurant, like pasta dishes. Pasta is inexpensive to serve, even with a fancy sauce and meat or seafood. That doesn’t mean the pasta dishes are bad, or even that they’re priced out of line with the rest of the menu. They’re just the dishes with the highest profit margins for a restaurant.
- Hierarchy and Organization: Most menus are organized along the lines of how a meal might be served — appetizers, salads, entrees, and so on. But within that traditional hierarchy, a menu designer has a lot of freedom. Research has shown that readers look at the first and last items in a section. It is useful to look at those items (they’re often signature dishes) and may be the dishes that the owner makes the most money on, but looking deeper into the menu can provide some interesting alternatives.
- Specific Ingredients: Menu writing is meant to make your mouth water, with descriptions of seafood from a specific location or vegetables loaded down with adjectives. There’s a reason for all those descriptors, though. Not only are writers making food sound as appealing as possible , but they’re also providing an introduction for anyone encountering a particular ingredient for the first time. You may not recognize the name of every fish in the ocean, but hearing the location it comes from, even as broadly as the Pacific Ocean, can reassure you that it is at least somewhat familiar.
- Recommended Items: Your waiter will almost always have a recommendation or a special to tell you about — and it can come off as a rehearsed spiel. It can be designed to highlight the same dishes that the menus are meant to promote, but you can also use that spiel as an opportunity to get an honest opinion about what your waiter has tried.