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The importance of menu design in driving customer satisfaction as well as commercial success

Published under Casual dining , food and drink
Written by Rachel Cristofoli

Most of us enjoy eating out.  It offers an opportunity to sit down with people for an hour or two who we might not ordinarily get any quality time with and speak in a relatively undisturbed way (and means you don't have to cook!).

For me, once the destination restaurant has been decided upon (I’m pretty happy to eat most things, so tend to go with the flow) one of things I’ve started to notice recently is just how varied the menus can be.  I don’t mean in terms of the type of food they have on offer (naturally that’s determined by the type of restaurant we’ve chosen), but more in terms of the raft of different physical and aesthetic designs that are out there.  From a 1-page A4 sheet of paper printed in simple black and white to a multiple-fold laminated colour booklet almost as big as the table I’m sitting at, there’s a myriad of menu styles and designs waiting to challenge both our mental and physical dexterity, well before our taste buds have even got a look-in.

Finding your way around a menu is usually relatively easy if it’s a restaurant you’ve been to before and/or you know roughly what to expect to see available, but all sorts of hazards can arise when you’re faced with the relatively unfamiliar.

There are certain rules that we generally expect most restaurants to adhere to, and they seem to make sense, like making sure the appetisers and starters come first, the mains are in the middle and the desserts are at the end.  There is, after all, a natural order to things.  Or is there?

What works well for one restaurant brand or chain may not work for another.  Just take the example of a Nandos menu which is great fun and easy to handle if you know what you’re doing, but it’s a complicated business to get to the meal you want if you’re a Nandos novice.  Not only have you got a slightly disjointed menu process to contend with, you’ve got the semi self-serve format to get your head around as well.

Elsewhere on the menu spectrum sits Prezzo, whose menu is more muted, with subtle use of colour to highlight certain sections and dishes.  It’s also physically designed to fold shut, presumably to give you some sort of closure on your selection process while indicating subtly to the waiting staff that you’re ready to order.  Personally I think this is a nice touch.

And there are brands who have gone down the traditional ‘pub specials’ route, with menus presented on chalk boards around the restaurant, so you have to physically get up and look at what you can eat.  For those of us whose memories aren’t what they used to be, this can be irritating as well as restricting, as we can end up falling back on the one item we can remember that we think we also liked the sound of!  But for others it may be the perfect approach for a more casual, convivial atmosphere.

When we eat out, just like everything in this world, we’re faced with choices.  The way those choices are presented inevitably leaves us with some sort of impression of the brand, either before, during or after we’ve eaten.  Making the menu as easy and intuitive as possible for customers is something that casual dining brands need to really work hard on to remain competitive. 

There’s no point having the right dishes on the menu if your customers can’t navigate their way to finding them, resulting in either a lost or a less profitable transaction than you wanted. 

At Market Measures, we appreciate that pleasing customers is one thing, but we also understand the need for the menu to work from a commercial perspective.  So we’ve developed a suite of research tools designed specifically to help Casual Dining brands (and their designers) get the most out of their menus to maximise both the ROI they generate as well as the customer experience. 

Have a look at our Menu Optimisation Suite and get in touch if you think it’s something you’d be interested in chatting to us about.