MustHaveMenus Blog

Category: ‘Design’

Engineer Your Menu! Drafting Menu Copy

great menu copyMel’s fourth and final article in our Engineer Your Menu! series is packed with tips on how to make the copy in your menu come to life and where to place it. Let’s dig in!

Has it really been four weeks since we kicked off our Engineer Your Menu series? It’s amazing how fast the time can go.

 Ah, and that reminds me: autumn is arriving…which means, of course, that Thanksgiving and the winter holidays will be here before we know it. This extra-special time of year is prime time for special dinners, corporate events and catered Christmas get-togethers.

 Make sure you have all the bases covered in advance this bustling time with these last bits of advice on engineering the perfect menu. This week: Drafting menu copy that’s appealing and unique. Read on.

 A Menu That’s Stylin’
Your first consideration when writing your menu copy is the basic style and/or theme of your establishment. The text should reflect whatever that is – trendy, kitschy, upscale, casual, ethnic or whatever atmosphere customers will be dining in.

Do you serve sirloin? Surfburgers? Angus beef? A triple play (three mini-burgers)? “Soy Very Special” (i.e. “so very special”) burgers? These may all be variations on the same idea – hamburgers/veggie patties – but each name has a distinct feel. Find yours, and word your menu options in a way that suits your restaurant’s style. 

Check Out the Competition
We’re sure you’re superior to the competition…but it can’t hurt to see what the other side is doing with their menu wording. Pick up copies of similar establishments’ menus or look online and see what the latest wording style is for menus.

Just make sure you’re putting your own unique slant on your menu copy; flat-out copying is a no-no and will make your restaurant look less creative and original than it is.

List Foods in Order
Many restaurants seek a one-of-a-kind feel by placing offerings on the menu out of the order they’re normally eaten. In other words, specials may be first, or entrees may be an insert rather than printed after the appetizers.

We say: don’t follow this exception to the restaurant rule. Your clients will be chatting with one another and distracted while making selections and may pass over the appetizers or make a note to order dessert later, then forget while ordering. Your wait staff, of course, can always correct them or ask them to go back, but too much of this just seems irritating to the customer – something you definitely don’t want.

 The exception is the drinks selection. If you have a selection of wines, have a separate menu for these, and other drinks may be placed either at the beginning or the end of your menu without causing confusion. (Drinks are the one part of the dining experience no customer is likely to overlook no matter where they’re placed.)

Create Mouth-Watering Descriptions
Don’t serve cod, serve fresh-caught Atlantic cod with a golden pecan crust. Instead of spinach and dried tomato salad, offer insalata a la Roma with sun-dried tomatoes. And who wants pasta with sauce when he can order Semolina penne a la marinara sprinkled with fresh-grated Parmesan? The same dish will seem much tastier when worded in ways that are appealing and get your customers’ appetites going.

Keep Descriptions Brief and “Punchy”
At the same time, don’t go too crazy on lengthy food descriptions. Keep each description to one or, if necessary, two sentences. A few delicious-looking words can be the difference between a dish that’s ordered and one that’s passed by. 

I truly hope you’ve enjoyed this series. As always, check us out on Facebook and don’t forget to sign up for our free email newsletter – The Fresh Sheet. Bon appetite!

Engineer Your Menu! – Dish Construction


Mel’s second article in our Engineer Your Menu series takes a closer look at dish construction – and how to make it more appealing for your customers. Dig in!

Have you ever noticed how owning a restaurant is all about balance? Balancing the finest ingredients with the best prices; coordinating entrees with appetizers; adding seasonals and specials while maintaining your clients’ all-time favorites.

It’s an ongoing first-class juggling act (albeit a rewarding one, especially if you know and enjoy your regular clientèle). How balanced is your menu right now? Can it do with a change or two in order to be more appealing to your customers? Here’s the dish on how to construct mouth-watering menu pairings.

Season’s Eatings
Find out what’s seasonal in your area and put together plates that appeal to your clients’ feel for the time of year. Cranberries can double in entrees and appetizers (sprinkle them into a mock Waldorf salad, for example, and make a gorgeous cranberry spice sauce to dab around the main dish) and are perfect for the fall and winter. Citrus adds snap to chicken or seafood, while berries and figs pretty up a summertime dessert.

What’s more, your printed menu will have a more seasonal look without changing the border or background just by including seasonal adjectives (“sun-ripened,” “iced/on ice,” “light, fresh, crisp,” “in season,” “locally selected,” etc.).

Let Your Clients Inspire You

Have a customer who absolutely loves a new twist on an old dish and asks for it again and again? Politely ask her if you can create a dish in her honor. Bryan’s Turfless Surf, Avocado Beef Marinade a la Michelle or another humorous name will impress the honoree and will probably become a local favorite for all your diners, not just Bryan or Michelle.

Keep the Menu Itself Appealing
The actual paper/laminated/fabric menu should move with the times, too. Keep your menus up-to-date and slip specials into the center of each on clean, new paper. Replace paper menus often. How your menu looks, and how clean it is, can have a big impression on customers and can change just how much they’re willing to have you serve them.

Add a Splash of Color
Psychologically, people are more likely to enjoy a dish if there are more than two colors involved. Additionally, certain colors stimulate the appetite. Add a splash of red to get diners in the mood for food, and put some fresh greens plus a slice or two of brightly or deep-colored garden offerings (like beets, for example) on the side of pasta, beef or chicken to add visual interest and get customers to dig right in.

When it comes to your menu, stay fresh, stay clean and update regularly.

Dish construction isn’t difficult and can even be fun and challenging. (Yes, really!) Think outside the box and create dishes with personality.

What’s Hot in Menu Design this Year?

Two design trends MustHaveMenus predicts you’ll see in the next year

A recent trendwatching post on Eater NY described eight of the most popular menu design trends seen around New York. Retro letterboards, old-fashioned crests and ornate patterns, and sketches of food all make an appearance in the article. But what about the untold number of us who don’t live in New York? What’s trendy elsewhere?

Minimal Spacing & Heaver, Serif Fonts
One look that our designers have been seeing more and more is a crowded design. Jenn Prinzing, MustHaveMenus’ Art Director, points out that minimal spacing between items and heavier-weight text give these crowded menus an old world, comfortable look. “Serif fonts (you know, the letters with the little notches on the end, like Times New Roman) give the menus a handmade, authentic feel.” Examples of the crowded look are the Whiskey Soda Lounge in Portland, OR, and Pizzaiolo in Oakland, CA.

High Tech, Low Cost Presentation
Eater NY also points out that interactive, multimedia menus are hot—but mentions high tech, high price options like iPads and flatscreen TVs. Lately, we see a lot of menus presented using PowerPoint on a computer monitor, an affordable option to the latest video technology. Restaurants like the Noodle Cafe in Newport, OR, and many eateries in Las Vegas depend on PowerPoint menus to catch their customers’ attention.

What menu design trends have you seen in your neighborhood eateries? Share your predictions, thoughts, and what trends you’d like to see on MustHaveMenus with us on our Facebook page. Our designers are listening!

Engineer Your Menu! – Pricing Maneuvers

We promised—and here it is! Mel’s kicking off our Engineer Your Menu series with a closer look at the way pricing is presented on your menu—and how this can affect your customers’ meal buying decisions (and whether they come back for more). Dig in!

Your marketing instincts may be telling you that in order to stay competitive, you should price dishes and drinks at a “bargain,” even if your restaurant is on the higher end. Well, throw those instincts away (or tuck them in the back of your mind where they belong). There’s much more to obtaining, and retaining, restaurant customers than the bottom line. Here are a few tricks of the trade other restaurant owners and managers may not have told you.

  1. The Class Factor. Even in a down economy, visitors to higher-end restaurants expect to be treated as if they’re willing and able to spend. So be sure to present your pricing in a way that subconsciously reassures diners you feel they’re the tops. One ingenious way shared with me by restaurant owners is to leave decimal point and cents off pricing on your menu (i.e.: 26 v. $26.75). The clean look has a psychological “it doesn’t matter how much it really costs” feel — even though it does (so do remain at least in the ballpark of cost-competitive when it comes down to the actual pricing).
  2. Fade the Spending Part of the Experience into the Background. Looking at things from another perspective, leave the dollar sign off the prices on your menu. To a diner, there’s nothing that screams “you’re spending!” more profoundly than the image of the dollar sign. Don’t drive that point home. Just leave the sign off. The price is there for your customers to see and that’s plenty of information – fade the spending portion of the experience into the distance and keep the wonderful dishes and service in the forefront.
  3. Take a Visual Dollar Off. When a restaurant customer sees $6.99 rather than $7.00, his or her mind will automatically expand the “6” and dismiss the $.99. This is an old marketing trick but one that continues to work well to relax customers and make them feel they’re getting their money’s worth.
  4. Stagger Profit Margins. Don’t try to maintain an even profit margin percentage for all of your menu offerings. Instead, position a few “loss leaders” — dishes that are priced much closer to cost than your more spendy items. These dishes should lead into your evening specials, regular entrees or drinks. Similarly, try a larger profit margin on some items and a smaller one on others – again, these should be tie-in items – but not necessarily so close to cost. Your customers will be saving overall, while you will be able to maintain the integrity of more expensive or difficult-to-get ingredients and offer those at a rate that will reasonably reflect back to your bottom line.

If this all seems rather, well, “psychological,” keep in mind that the act of dining itself is a psychological experience. Anyone can grab a bite of food. But a fine meal delivered with exemplary, respectful service is in a category of its own…and if you deliver it every time, your customers will come back again and again.

Engineer Your Menu! – A New Blog Series

Fine Dining Menu

I’m pleased to welcome our newest blogger, Mel, who will occasionally join Amanda writing for the MustHaveMenus blog. Pleased to have you, Mel!

What’s new, fresh and can help take your restaurant to the next level?

Your new menu.

How your menu looks, and where items are placed on the menu, really does make a difference to diners. Trust me when I tell you that people who visit your restaurant are taking in everything, from the seating to the noise level to, yes, whether the menus pass muster.

But you probably already know this. And that’s why we’re introducing the Engineer Your Menu! series. We want to help you harness your creativity (and the high quality of your menu and your plate offerings) to kick your menus up a notch…and attract more customers.

I’m Melanie, and I’ll be heading up the Engineer Your Menu! series with tips, tricks and the latest trends on what restaurant aficionados really want to see. What’s my inspiration? You! MustHaveMenus members are creative, forward-thinking and, well, just all-around amazing. I’ve seen what restaurant owners can do to take a simple template and really make it their own. I’d love to help you get to the next level.

Each week I’ll be highlighting a different aspect of menu creation and improvement. Watch this space for Pricing Maneuvers, coming shortly. And be sure to follow us on Facebook for more updates. Remember – we always love to hear from you!

Design of the Week: Summer Event Menu

summer event menu

This week’s Design of the Week is a Summer Event Menu. This menu is perfect for displaying those hot summer day specials. Beachy and casual; this is the perfect menu for a laid back bistro or cafe.

Update it in just a few minutes with the Menu Editor. It’s just edit, save and print. It’s that simple.

Have You Ever Focus-Grouped Your Menu?

I’d like to issue a challenge the MustHaveMenus blog readers today. If you haven’t focus-grouped your menu, why not give it a try?

This is a very simple exercise that will only cost you time and a free meal for your attendees. Here’s a quick and easy way to see if your menu is working for your guests.

  1. Invite in six to eight regular customers. If you have a customer database, this isn’t that difficult to do. Make sure to invite a good mix of young, older, kids/no kids, etc., so that you get a good demographic mix. You need at least 8 to show up and 12-16 is ideal.
  2. Ask your customers to invite someone who has never eaten at your restaurant. The incentive is that they get free dinner and drinks.
  3. Make sure they know it’s free. You can invite these guests one of two ways – call or mail/e-mail them an invitation. Now, you need to entice them to come. Make sure the invitation is from you and that they know they are getting free dinner and drinks.
  4. Don’t tell them the topic of the focus group. Just let the customers know that this an opportunity for you to learn more about why they choose your restaurant and that you are offering a reward of free dinner and drinks.
  5. Prepare your list of questions. Develop a list of 10-12 questions you want to ask your focus group. Add in those things that nag you. Ask them about layout, language, ease in making choices, ease in finding ingredients. Ask them how they order. If they order the same things. What would make them order something different on the menu?
  6. Let them order from the menu. Sit back and watch. Have two or three waiters on staff for this focus group and observe how guests interact with your menu. What questions do they ask? How does your staff handle questions about the menu?
  7. Prepare some samples of dishes you have questions about. Create a sampling of appetizers, entrees, desserts and drinks you want to receive feedback on.
  8. Record the interaction. Hire one of your staff members to use a Flip cam to capture the event or just audio record it. The video will help you see what the experience is like for the customer.
  9. Evaluate the results. You’ll get some questions answered. New questions will arise and you’ll learn a lot about your menu and dining experience through your customers and new prospects eyes.
  10. Follow-up with customers and their guests. Send them a hand-written thank-you for their participation in your focus group. You may or may not want to include a gift certificate for 10-20% off next purchase. It’s up to you.

Share your results. If this works for you, we’d love to hear about how it worked for you. Talk about it on Facebook in our discussion on Menu Focus Groups.

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