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If you know how your customer reads a menu then you also know how to build an irresistible roadmap that guides your consumers straight to your best products.

So, a long time ago I used to work in a five-star restaurant. Our guests who hadn’t done their homework would often be confused by our menu’s fancy vocabulary of amuse bouche, cavolo nero, ndjulla aiolo and sweet bread (which isn’t actually bread). Sure, the argument could be made that the vocabulary created a perception of quality. But as a waiter, guiding confused customers to promised land of soft shelled crab could have been so much easier if it was priced better, and it wasn’t hidden away at the bottom of a poorly laid out menu.

Creating an amazing menu is like creating a memorable children’s book. It seems easy but it can be deceptively tricky to get right. Creativity is all very well and good but there are a few clever details that can make your customer more interested in trying what you have on offer. It’s also useful for helping to identify what your customers enjoy. You may think that your kimchi deep fried pork in sweet potato mash is a sure-fire success story but if your customers aren’t interested then it’s time to make your menu focus on the wagyu beef brisket that’s selling like hot cakes. As such, a menu is very much a useful customer guide as well as an excellent profit generator.

With all that in mind here are top five essentials to making your menu more attractive to your customers which is more profitable to your business:

1. Price Power

A lot of people don’t realise the subtleties that can be influenced by pricing in a menu. Pius Boachie talks about this in his article of psychological pricing where he goes on to mention the ways menus can make customers react to items based on the numbers next to them. For example, if you’re selling a Perrier Jouet, a delicious French champagne and offer it at a round number like $120.00, customers are more likely to be attracted to it as its perceived to be more authentic than $119.95 which seems cheap.

But the reverse is also useful. Customers are more likely to order to order a crispy cajun

chicken jalapeno burger if it’s sold at $15.95 rather than $16.00. Instead of using a round

number the difference in 5 cents makes the burger look more affordable. Similarly, if your

menu has got a bottle of Dom Perignon, one of the most impressive and expensive bottles of

champagne on the menu at $300.00 then it’s usually placed right next to a Tattinger at

$100.00 which is more expensive than the Veuve Clicquot at $60.00. The method here is to

position the item you want to be sold more frequently near the most expensive item.

Customers don’t want to be cheap and are more likely to choose the Tattinger at $100.00

because its positioned so closely to the Dom Perignon which creates a connection to wealth

but isn’t going to break the bank.

And on that note, drop your dollar signs in your menu. Menu engineer, Gregg Rapp suggests that doing this will disassociate “the pain” of spending money which in my experience is true. The difference between a hard $20.00 and a softer 20.00 means I might avoid a drink or buy another.

Price Power

2. Tasteful Descriptors

If you’ve reached this point and didn’t get a pain in your stomach when I mentioned Cajun chicken burgers or soft-shelled crab then you might if I added adjectives like crispy, slow cooked or traditional to these foods. As customers we’re far more likely to choose food that stimulates our imagination or reminds us of things we’ve had in the past.

As I mentioned earlier this is also entirely dependent on context. A fine dining restaurant may want to use a lot of traditional French words or formal descriptions of food because it creates a perception of a high-quality venue that’s fancy. It’s also important to be consistent to your venue because it can totally backfire if you’re incredibly casual with your menu if you’re not in fact serving a very casual crowd.

Tasteful Descriptors

Whereas if that is the crowd you are enticing then it’s important to speak directly to your customers with descriptors that matter to them. It’s also important to start being a bit more creative with headings that stand out and engage readers. Cocktail bars are particularly good at doing this when they have their own house drinks matching the theme of their own bar as it enhances the atmosphere of the venue. A Caribbean themed bar is going to be much more appealing with an iconic beverage like, “The Great Pineapple Debate” as opposed to a Long Island Iced Tea which is best left off all Australian bar menus.

3. Intuitive Imagery

In this day and age we’re bombarded by food snaps. I’m perfectly fine with viewing the explosion of avocado on toast and acai bowls on Instagram but menus shouldn’t be trying to visually overwhelm their customers. Whilst I don’t mind seeing a few images on a page to guide my decision making it’s not a recommendation to show off each appealing option on the menu as it increases decision making time and makes it frustrating to navigate a menu. Sparse usage of food photos is much better for outlets where their items are quite similar as it assists decision making. It also allows business owners to funnel their customers to items that they’d like sell.

This is particularly important when considering the way peoples’ read information. As we tend to read from left to right many menus will feature the best item in the top right position as its considered to be the “sweet spot” as it’s the last thing our eyes see before scanning the rest of the menu. The reason this is done is to draw the customers’ attention to the most expensive dish on the menu, the slow cooked duck that needs to be separated from the barramundi and lamb shoulder so it can be sold more easily.

Intuitive Imagery

Another way to make your menu appealing is to have a graphic designer to lay the menu out in a way that matches the theme of your venue. Especially if you’re a bar or a quick food outlet it’s a good idea to find ways to illustrate the character of your business through your menu. This makes your menu stand out and in turn helps to differentiate your brand from competitors. This is especially important given how oversaturated the hospitality industry is within Australia.