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Bar and Restaurant

13 Menu Hacks Your Bar or Restaurant Can Use to Drive Sales

It’s no secret bars, restaurants, and cafes use menu hacks to increase sales. What might surprise you is the sheer sophistication that goes into them. You might want to try some of these hacks for your own menus. Here are a few common tricks of the trade you can use to increase revenue with every sale.

1.) Use exotic names for menu items.

Ice cream / gelato menu

Always consider your item names before you design your menus. Having exotic names on otherwise boring items is one of those menu hacks as old as menus themselves. This gives the brand an air of authenticity and sophistication, even when reality says otherwise. For instance, the Starbucks version of macchiato, which is essentially a caffe-latte, is vastly different from the real Italian version, which is an espresso with foam, with the milk being optional. But imagine for a minute if they called it “milk and coffee” from the beginning. Starbucks might never have taken off with their brand like they did.

2.) Play with serving size names.

Not only do you have to consider item names, but you also have to look at serving size names as well. How different would your Starbuck’s experience be if they had normal names for sizes, rather than Short, Tall, Grande, Venti, and Trenta? This small touch helped their brand stand out, but it also obfuscated actual serving sizes, often resulting in customers ordering larger sizes, and Starbucks charging considerably more for the extra amount of beverage.

This tactic is also taken to another level in many bars across the country. While many countries regulate the size of alcoholic beverages, there are no equivalent laws in the United States. Sure, a U.S. standard pint is 16 ounces, but technically bars can serve beer in any sized glass and still call it a pint.

We don’t recommend you cheat your customers, but even something as simple as including memorable serving size names can take your menu design to the next level.

3.) Determine the optimal number of images.

Generally speaking, the more upscale the bar or restaurant, the fewer images you should put on the menus. You will rarely, if ever, see photos of food on a Michelin-starred restaurant. Menu designs for more downmarket establishments will typically have more images. Part of this is that cultural cues make us perceive minimalist design as more sophisticated. Upscale establishments may even use illustrations, rather than photos, to entice diners to order specific items. It makes sense to understand your own brand before you design your menus.

4.) Use branding to mentally prime diners.

Another menu hack you can try is to use brand names on your items. Brands matter, but not always in the way we think. Bars can be very specific about the brand of liquor they use in cocktails, even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense to. Restaurants do the same thing when they specify a cut of meat is USDA Prime, Choice, or Select even when it makes no difference in the application, such as in burgers.

Some restaurants may even try to fool customers by using “Prime” or “Select” without the USDA label, allowing them to use any cut of meat they want. You see similar attempts at branding with Wagyu beef, “real” maple syrup, bourbon, maguro and otoro tuna, and countless others.

You don’t want to fool anyone, but there are plenty of branding opportunities for nearly any food service business. For instance, specifying the brand and specific variety of bourbon on a liquor menu is going to be way more effective than just writing down “whiskey”.

5.) Study reading patterns.

Classy Italian menu example

Whether it’s a single sheet or multi-page print, chances are the items you want a customer to look at will be in the middle part of the menu, and to the upper right. Line breaks, boxes, and clever graphic design also help direct our gaze in specific directions.

The science of how eye movements impacts menu design is largely the work of graphic designer William Doerfler in the 1970s. While his specific model on eye scan paths has been challenged, his ideas continue to be influential.  This 2012 dissertation on menu design by Yun Wang of Iowa State University is an essential read for anyone serious about creating a menu that increases sales. Take a look at these studies before you design and order any menus.

6.) Use color theory to stimulate appetite.

You may have noticed most fast food logos contain one or more of the following colors– red, yellow, orange, or green; particularly the former two. According to the color theory, these colors subconsciously trigger hunger or induce excitement. The same principle applies to menu design.

7.) Arrange design elements to speed up orders.

Diners tend to scan menus quickly. Diners spend only around 109 seconds reading menus, according to a Gallup poll. This means your menu design has less than two minutes to make an impression. Clear sections, a limited number of clear choices, and design elements that lead diners through the menu help your designs influence decisions.

8.) Price some items to make others seem like better deals.

Confusing layout menu hacks for a burger joint

This strategy is called “anchoring.” It happens when expensive premium items with relatively low value per dollar are shown next to reasonably-priced offers that seem to offer better value. The premium item tends to be there for branding’s sake, but the restaurant really wants to offer more of the downscale items because it might be cheaper to make, has better profit margins, or both. Incorporating these ideas into your menu design will invariably means that your business plan has to be developed beforehand.

9.) Evaluate the cheapest and second cheapest items.

You will find this menu hack everywhere once you know to look for it. Most customers will not usually settle for the lowest priced items. Therefore the price of the second-lowest priced item is increased.  Alternately the lowest priced item decreased – sometimes at a loss. Either way, this helps to drive profits from sales. Be sure to have your costing practices down before applying this strategy to your menu designs.

10.) Make price comparison difficult.

Establishments that offer set meals do this by having drinks and add-ons in inconvenient places on the menu. They may also design the menu so that you have to read through a description before finding the price, making it tedious to compare different items. You might not want to make it too complicated on your own design though, as it can also increase table turnaround times.

11.) Omit dollar signs.

This one simply works, and should be standard on your own menus. This classic menu hack is now fairly well-known. The absence of a currency symbol can prevent customers from associating menu items with money. In theory this makes them less conscious of their spending. And it’s not just an urban legend either. A study by Sybil S. Yang, Sheryl E. Kimes Ph.D. and Mauro M. Sessarego from Cornell University found:

“Contrary to expectations, guests given the numeral-only menu spent significantly more than those who received a menu with prices showing a dollar sign or those whose menus had prices written out in words. Psychological theory, by contrast, predicted that the scripted format would draw higher sales. Although these findings may apply only to lunch at this particular restaurant, they indicate that menu-price formats do influence customers’ spending, both in terms of total check and spending per cover.”

12.) Spend time on the menu copy.

This isn’t so much of a menu hack as much as something all menu designers need to pay attention to. The way language is used matters. Something as simple as explaining where the wine comes from, or the kind of soil where the organic carrots were grown can distract diners from actual item prices. It can also help the brand’s image at the same time.

13.) Choose print materials carefully.

Printing and Menus

A few serious issues can arise when bar and restaurant owners choose print menus for themselves or with a sub-par printing service. First, it takes experience to ensure colors are correctly matched and compensated for on both your design file and in print. Second, multi-page printing can be challenging to new designers — there is less room for error with bleeds and trimming. Third, not all printing services are able to create menus to the technical specifications you want.

What other menu hacks have you tried? Comment below!\.


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