MustHaveMenus Blog

Category: ‘Marketing’

Concept & Quality Are the Keys to a Successful Menu

The restaurant industry is, by nature, ambitious and complex. By the numbers, it’s also a high-risk business—60% of restaurants shutter within three years. But while “the causes of these failures are numerous,” writes former restaurant consultant Christine Letchinger, “many of them are firmly in place even before a restaurant first opens its doors to customers.”

The key to restaurant success is having a clear, viable restaurant concept. While that involves many aspects—including location, marketing plan, and competitive advantage—the menu is a major player in your restaurant’s identity. Whether you are just starting out or maintaining a successful establishment, Letchinger’s menu tips can focus and revitalize your menu.

Menu Mistake #1: Too Much Variety

A menu has to balance focus with variety. The most common mistake restaurants make is to offer a menu with a very broad range of items. First, this dilutes the restaurant concept—and thus your identity with customers. It introduces logistical challenges for chefs, leads to inconsistent quality, and increases the risk of supply outages. Overwhelming the customer with pages of options can be confusing and slows down the ordering process. “Something for everyone” sounds like a nice idea, but it’s impossible to sustain quality if you offer a little of everything.

Menu Mistake #2: Too Limited

A menu that is too focused, on the other hand, may not have sufficiently broad appeal for the target market. The menu concept itself may be too narrow; trend-based menus, for example, can only expect to endure while the trend is hot. Or the offerings may be limited by chef preference, rather than customer demand. A restaurant that offers no kid-friendly meals, for example, cannot expect to attract families.

Hallmarks of Successful Menus

So what makes a good menu? In short, stick to your strengths, be objective about your offerings, and lead with a viable pricing strategy. Letchinger offers these seven suggestions:

1. Develop signature items to establish your reputation and expand your market.

2. Objectively test all your menu items to achieve best quality and streamlined production.

3. Use precise recipes and proportions for each dish, so cost is consistently accurate.

4. Monitor your menu constantly for sales trends, and introduce new items regularly.

5. Know your competition, and price your items accordingly. If your cheeseburger is 20% more expensive than the one down the street, it had better be 20% higher quality, too.

6. Stick within a price threshold that encourages upsell. Alcohol, sides and desserts are low-cost add-ons that are critical for profitability.

7. Be sure your pricing strategy is appropriate for the concept and your financial goals.

Letchinger, an experienced restaurant consultant and Associate Professor at Chicago’s Kendall College, has extensively studied the life-cycle of restaurants. Her recent article “The Anatomy of Restaurant Failure: Dead Man Walking” offers many insights on what it takes to open (and ultimately, close) a successful restaurant. Read the full article.

Make Facebook Work for Your Restaurant

Hook customers with snappy posts and tempting photos

Most of the people in your community — your active and potential customers — are among the 1 billion+ Facebook users. Interacting with those consumers on Facebook is one of the most worthwhile marketing efforts for an independent restaurant. With a few simple engagement strategies, you can expand your audience and attract new customers without investing endless hours or purchasing ad space.

Facebook Rewards Genuine Activity

There are only two ways to use Facebook as a marketing tool: pay for advertisements, or be an active user. If you don’t want to purchase ad space, then you’ll need to invest a little bit of time each week to engage with your Facebook fans. The reward for this engagement are free exposure to thousands of potential diners. What does it mean to be an active user? At least a couple times a week, make a post to your page, and engage with customers.

What Should You Post?

Your page will be seen by your favorite customers, as well as friends of friends, and perfect strangers just searching for a place to eat. What can you share that appeals to all these viewers? Just stay simple, professional, and timely. Here are some ideas to inspire you:

• For lunch today we’re serving up a fresh-catch special: Seared Halibut with Grilled Asparagus
• Tonight is the big game! Enjoy our classic Big Burger and a draft pint for only $8.
• Just got our new crop of habaneros. Come on in to try our famous mango salsa.
• The Tutti Frutti cocktail is back! Fresh pineapple puts this drink over the top.
• Come enjoy the sunshine with lunch on our outdoor patio.
• Karaoke this Friday, don’t miss it! Starts at 8, all ages welcome.
• In honor of national Craft Beer Week, we’ve got 6 Northwest brews on tap. Try a flight to find your favorite.
• The Hometown Little Leaguers have their first game today. We’ll be rooting for you!

Irresistible Images

The new Facebook feed is designed to be a visual feast: pictures and videos are displayed larger and more prominently than ever. Restaurants have an advantage here, as customers will devour photos of your delicious food and your establishment. Try to include visuals in most of your posts by uploading your own photos, linking to other images, or sharing relevant Youtube videos. Food is a visual experience, and you can foster loyalty simply by sharing your passion for food. People often connect with restaurants where they had a memorable experience — a birthday dinner, a favorite hometown bakery. Serving up pictures of your food keeps you fresh in their minds and close to their hearts, and lets them recommend you to their friends with confidence.

Engage with Customers

Facebook is more than just a billboard for your promotions; it’s a chance for your customers to communicate with you, too. Visitors to your page can reply to any of your posts, share photos on your page, or post their own question or comment. Although it’s a lot less formal than talking to a customer face-to-face, take this communication seriously. If someone asks a question on your page, be sure to reply in a timely fashion, so that everyone can see your response. Most of your fans will use your page to praise you, but some customers will want to vent about a bad experience. If they offer a specific grievance (e.g. “The server Mindy was so rude”) send that user a message directly and try to salvage the situation.

Your brand, your customer service, and your reputation now must extend beyond the walls of your restaurant. Think of Facebook as a tool to help you build these relationships and grow your business.

Boost Profits with Menu Engineering

When menu engineering expert Gregg Rapp revamps a restaurant’s menu, he anticipates an ongoing profit increase of 10–15%. Menu engineering is a process of examining the popularity and profitability of each of your menu items, then leveraging consumer behavior psychology to maximize your menu’s selling power. Engineering your menu requires an initial time investment, but if you skip this process, Rapp says, you’re “leaving a lot of easy profits on the table.”

What could menu engineering do for your restaurant? Menu Cover Depot offers a step-by-step guide to help you get started. Read the full article.

Facebook has a Restaurant Guide – are you in it?

As part of last month’s interface redesign, Facebook subtly launched a new feature: a blue search bar at the top of your news feed offers to search “Restaurants Nearby.” A user can instantly browse a list of restaurants in the area, and then click through to those restaurants’ Facebook Pages to see hours, menus, and ordering information. With thousands of restaurants already in the system, Facebook is positioned to compete with Yelp, UrbanSpoon and Google for that irresistible market: becoming the go-to tool to help consumers decide where to go for dinner tonight.

Restaurant search on Facebook

Get Your Restaurant in the Guide
What does this mean for you? Obviously, your restaurant should have a Facebook page. There’s no excuse not to; you can set one up in 5 minutes, and start benefiting from free exposure in the locals index right away. First, be sure your Page type is listed as Restaurant (when you create a new page, select Business, then Cafe, Bar, etc.). If Facebook doesn’t know you’re a restaurant, you won’t make it in the index. Second, fill out as many fields as you can. Business hours, location, and phone number are essential if you want new diners to be able to contact you. You can include a link to your own restaurant website, but put all the essentials on Facebook as well. If you already have an active Facebook page, just confirm that you have the correct Page type and complete information.

Restauarant on Facebook

Stay Active to Be Seen
The news feed, revamped in March 2013, now rewards activity more than ever. Even if a customer finds you in the local restaurants guide, and “likes” your page, they will probably never see your page again unless you make frequent updates. Think of Facebook as an ongoing conversation; the more you participate in the conversation—by making posts, sharing photos, interacting with fans—the more you are rewarded with visibility (i.e. free marketing).

Make the Most of Mother’s Day


Mother's DayMore than 75 million people take Mom out to eat on Mother’s Day, making it the busiest dining-out day of the year. How can you entice them to celebrate at your restaurant on May 12th? Here are 5 great ideas for making Mother’s Day memorable this year.

1. Crowd-Pleasing Menus

Brunch and dinner are the big winners on Mother’s Day, and with spring produce just hitting the shelves, it’s a good time to debut some fresh seasonal dishes. Gourmet quiche, spring salads, and crab are popular selections. Keep in mind that your holiday crowd might be more varied than your typical clientele, and cater to the whole family. Large-print menus are easier for grandparents to read, and you might offer special options (and activities) for small children. With the help of our Mothers Day menus, it’s quick to create an elegant menu worthy of the occasion. (Don’t forget to order prints by May 1st!)

2. Freebies for Mom

Offer a little incentive for families to choose your restaurant with a just-for-mom discount or freebie. A half-price entree, free appetizer, complimentary mimosa or glass of champagne will be enough to make Mom feel treated without cutting into your bottom line. Many restaurants distribute fresh cut flowers; daffodils or carnations are an affordable choice, while daisies and roses are more indulgent. Order a bulk supply from a florist in advance. Also consider partnering with a local florist, so guests can have their pre-ordered flowers delivered to Mom at dinner.

3. Show Your Support

Motherhood is all about helping others, which makes this occasion the perfect time to mention your restaurant’s community commitments. If you support a local school or sports team, parents and grandparents will love to see a note on the menu or a recent team photo on the wall. It’s also a great opportunity to make a donation to a charity, like the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Children’s Defense Fund, or Boys & Girls Club of America.

Mother's Day menu4. All in the Family

Your own company team wants to celebrate the special women in their lives, too. Consider extending your Mother’s Day promotions to employees’ families (even on a less busy day during the week), or offer a gift or flowers to all the moms on staff. Getting candid quotes from your employees on topics like “What was the best thing you learned from your mother” or “What do you appreciate most about your mother” would make a great pre-holiday promotion on Facebook.

5. Get the Word Out

However you decide to mark the occasion, it’s important to plan early and share those plans with your customers. Spread the word with a Mothers Day Flyer on your Facebook, website, or email newsletter. Nearly 90% of mothers are friends with their kids on Facebook, according to a recent study, so sharing your event promotions on Facebook will keep you at the top of their list. Early promotion boosts your odds of a full house on May 12th, and encouraging reservations will make the day go smoothly for staff and diners alike. But even last-minute planners will be checking your Facebook page to see if you’re open, so always post a day or two before the event to state your hours and reservation policy.

Boost April Profits at your Restaurant

April might be light on holidays this year, but you can still find great opportunities to run promotions this month. Creative promotions help you build community spirit, give your regulars a little variety, and draw new diners to fill the seats. From spring flavors to tax day to community events, we’ve got 6 great ideas to make April a profitable month.

1. Spring Is Here!

April restaurant flavorsMove over, winter – it’s time for spring flavors. Our spring specials menus are packed with tasty ideas for seasonal promotions, from Dungeness crab to garden peas. Serve up fresh favorites like grilled asparagus and steamed artichoke. Baby radishes, cucumber and kale are perfect for spring salads. And don’t forget the strawberry and rhubarb desserts your patrons look forward to all winter. Choose from colorful full-page templates or half-page inserts. Describe your new dishes on Facebook or in an email campaign so customers can’t resist.

2. Tax Day (Mon 4/15)

Your diners might be feeling the pinch this year, so offer them something to take the edge off. Many restaurant chains offer Tax Day Freebies, such as a free scoop of ice cream. Try a 10% off “tax refund” coupon, or 2-for-1 entrees for a nice date night incentive. Or simply display your daily specials on our popular recession menu theme.

3. Earth Day (Mon 4/22)

Your Earth Day promotions might be behind-the-scenes, but they give you something to talk about on Facebook, with your customers, and potentially with local news outlets. What foods on your menu are fresh from a local farm or kitchen garden? Do you recycle or compost? Can your staff ride their bikes or bus to work for the day? Do you offer a bike-to-work incentive or secure lock-ups for customer bicycles? Are your takeout containers or silverware compostable? Whatever you do for the earth, your customers will respect you for it, so get the word out!

4. Game Day

Sports promo ideasIf your restaurant or bar caters to the sports-loving crowd, you can build promotions around any of the big tournaments this month. A sports flyer lets fans know that your establishment has the best game day setup in town, and promotes your burgers, wings, or beer specials. The Masters golf tournament runs April 8-14, NBA playoffs start April 20, and the Stanley Cup hockey playoffs begin April 30. And if you sponsor any local teams, be sure to promote their schedule and consider offering incentives for teams and tired parents to refuel after a long game day.

5. March of Dimes (check your local event listing)

This nationwide charity walk for infant health is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. A cause that’s near and dear to many of your staff and customers is an opportunity to invest in your community. Consider putting together a company team to join the walk, donating beverages and snacks for walkers, or offering discounted meals to walk participants throughout the day. Check the March of Dimes website for details about your city’s walk event.

6. Outdoor Dining

If your restaurant has any sidewalk or patio space for outdoor dining, take advantage of the milder weather to utilize that outdoor seating. Diners will jump at the chance to soak up some spring sunshine after a chilly March. If temperatures are still unsteady, outdoor heating units will keep your guests comfortable. And if it’s not quite warm enough yet, leave a little reminder on a table tent or in a check insert that your outdoor dining area opens soon.

New Product: Gift Certificates

Gift Certificates

This month, we’re excited to announce our gift to you – Gift Certificates are now available for pro printing! This hot product is a simple low-cost marketing tool. A little sign on your hostess stand lets loyal diners know you offer gift certificates, so they can share their enthusiasm for your restaurant. Your customers get to share their favorite cuisine, and you gain new diners. Win-win!

It only takes about 30 seconds to customize our gift certificate templates with your restaurant’s info. When you order prints, you can opt for numbering (and you choose the starting number). They’re printed on sturdy, glossy paper and trimmed to size. Our printer even includes snazzy gift envelopes that say “a gift for you” in a fancy font.

The printable gift certificates are a new product, so if you’ve already saved a gift certificate to your account, we can help get your old file ready for printing. Already received your new printed gift certificates? Tell us what you think!

Easter Ideas for Restaurants

Easter Brunch Template

Easter is a big family holiday, and it’s increasingly common to celebrate the occasion by dining out. With a little planning and some great Easter designs from MustHaveMenus, you can make Easter Sunday a memorable feast for your customers.

Hop To It

Brunch is the most popular meal for dining out on Easter Sunday, which is a profitable opportunity for restaurants. Whether you opt for a buffet, prix fixe holiday menu, or just a few Easter specials, you can feature upscale versions of traditional breakfast dishes, such as brioche french toast, eggs benedict or spring veggie omelets. Smoked ham and leg of lamb can be roasted in advance and carved to order. And morning cocktails—mimosa, bellini, bloody mary—are an easy upsell.

Easter Brunch FlyerSavor Spring

Although the date falls early this year—March 31st—Easter traditionally signals the start of spring. Take the opportunity to feature early spring flavors on your menu—mushrooms, artichokes, asparagus, strawberries. Don’t stress about whipping up a whole new menu for the event—mark the occasion with just a few sensational seasonal dishes. Find more inspiration for Easter Brunch and Easter Dinner.

Family Fun

Kids will be especially appreciative of any special treats at their tables. A colorful Easter Coloring Menu will provide entertainment while they wait for their food. Visits from the Easter Bunny are always a big hit, and some restaurants sponsor candy egg hunts. But there are many easy ways to make dinner more fun for children: store the crayons in a mini Easter basket, serve up egg-shaped pancakes, bunny-shaped sugar cookies, house-made pastel marshmallows, or a side of Bunny Food (carrot & celery sticks). Simple tweaks in presentation can make the day special for little diners.

Easter Event Flyer Count Your Chickens

Your diners are likely to arrive in larger groups than usual, and will be put off by long wait times. If your restaurant will be open on Easter Sunday, advertise in advance with a customizable Easter Flyer. Encourage customers to make reservations, or allow call-ahead seating requests. This will make table management easier on your staff, and a more pleasant experience for your guests. If your establishment hasn’t hosted Easter events before, allowing reservations will also give you a sense of how many diners to expect, so you can stock up and staff appropriately. And be sure to order prints of your Easter Menus as soon as possible!

Four Restaurant Menu Fails & Surefire Fixes

Last year, we brought you a popular post called Five Restaurant Menu Design Fails. It was very popular and we thought it was time to bring up a few new ways that menu design fails can hurt your business. But this time we’re offering some surefire fixes to keep your menu top-notch and top of mind.

menu design fail

Menu Design Fail #1 – Scratching through or “whiting out” prices instead of creating a new menu.

Sure, it’s easy, but what impression are you putting forth for your customers? When you don’t keep a source file easily accessible, this may seem like the only option if you suddenly need to change a price or take something off the menu.

Surefire Fix: Keep all of your menu templates in one place. That’s why MustHaveMenus gives you a home in My Menus for all of your menu files that you can access anywhere, anytime – from your computer or tablet.

menu on facebook

Menu Design Fail #2 – Not posting your menu to Facebook.

Facebook is a surefire way to reach current and new customers. So when you have a Facebook page and don’t add your menu, it’s a failure to communicate with your customers. Don’t let this happen.

Surefire Fix: Connect your customers with your menu on Facebook with the MustHaveMenus Menu App. It works in two ways:

  1. My Menu Tab – Your customers can click the My Menu button at the top of your page and see your professionally designed menu in an instant and share it with their friends and family.
  2. Publish to Your Wall – Got a special dinner coming up? Want to let your customers know about your upcoming holiday catering specials? It’s as simple as a click to publish your specials menus and event flyers to your Facebook Wall.

Learn more about the benefits of putting your menu on Facebook.

Menu Design Fail No. 3 – Too much clutter on your menu.

The best menu design guides your customer in what to order. Too much clutter such as large borders, too many items packed into one page and photos everywhere can distract your customers from your great food.

Surefire Fix: Keep the menu design simple!

Keep the design simple and clean to help customers find their favorite dishes and to increase sales. Have a large selection? With MustHaveMenus, you can simply add pages or select a longer menu to accommodate your expansive menu.

clean menu design

Design Do: Keep the design simple
to make it easy for customers
to find favorites.

menu design failMenu Design Fail No. 4 – Using hard-to-read or too many fonts.

When you use too many fonts on your menu, it can look amateurish or cluttered like in this example. When there’s too much going on, it’s hard for your customer to focus on your offerings. That can lead to confusion when it comes time to order.

Surefire Fix: Keep your fonts to three complimentary fonts or less per menu design. If selecting fonts isn’t your thing, our professional designers have set the stage for a clean menu design in our more than 3,000 menu templates.


Get access to more than 3,000 designer menu templates, online software and publish your menus directly to Facebook for just $29/month.

Six Steps to Success in Menu Design

At MustHaveMenus, we’re in business to help you grow your business. And that starts with great menu design. Since it’s back to school time, we thought we’d revisit what makes a great menu for your restaurant.

Here are six basic steps for success in menu design or redesign.

fine dining food menuDetermine your look.

  • Do you have an existing logo or brand? If not, you’ll need a look that says what you do and who you serve.
  • Are you upscale, casual, family-friendly or modern? Pinpoint your look by describing it in a word or two.
  • What look doesn’t appeal to you? Hard to read fonts? No white space? Look at lots of restaurant menus to see what you do and don’t like and take a few notes.

Determine how your customers will use your menu.

Your customers will use your menu to make a decision about what to eat at your restaurant. But it goes much deeper than that. Your restaurant menu should be easy to read, clear and organized.

The customer should be able to:

  • Find your name and contact info
  • Find general categories of dishes (appetizers, main entrees, sides, desserts, drinks)
  • See the menu in all lights – watch too tiny fonts, light colors and hard-to-read swirly letters.
  • Focus on your offerings – When you have too much text, too many options or too many graphics (photos, clipart, etc.), it can be like looking at map and not knowing where to start. Be organized and critical in your menu formatting.

menu on facebookDoes your menu work on Facebook and online?

Another consideration is the digital version(s) of your menu. More and more diners are looking to Facebook and online for restaurant menus before they call in that takeout order or issue a lunch date request. Your menu should look as good online as it does on your counter or table tops.

Determine how your menu will be handled.

At least once a year, a study or article comes out citing how dirty restaurant menus are. That should be a consideration in your menu design. Will you laminate it or print fresh paper menus each week? Will you put your menu in a menu cover?

These simple questions will help you avoid problems with layout and help you determine exactly what space you have in your menu design.

todays menuDo you need supplemental menus?

This depends on your offerings. If you have the same menu year-round, you can probably get by with a single restaurant menu or café menu. If you want to entertain the kids and separate their offerings, a kid’s menu may be a good option. If you offer specials at the bar or a rotating soup or dessert menu, you may have a need for a few different menus.

Separating your menus has both pros and cons, but it can help you in two ways – drive more interest and keep the main menu clean and attractive.

See this recent MustHaveMenus blog article on the six menus every restaurant needs for a look at why separating your menus can drive sales.

menu design setsCould you benefit from a central look?

One of the strongest branding tools is to get a base look such as a menu design set. This piece will have coordinating menus and promo materials that can tie everything together. This is especially helpful in restaurants with seasonal or different menus at lunch and dinner.

Take a look at our menu design sets to see how you can create a streamlined, branded look for all of your restaurant marketing materials – everything from the lunch menu to the daily specials to your comment and business cards.

We hope this article helped you answer a few questions about your menu and how important design is to helping your customers make decisions and for driving more sales.

Get access to more than 3,000 designer menu templates, online software and publish your menus directly to Facebook for just $29/month.