The menu: It’s one of the first things customers see when they walk through a restaurant’s doors. And since it’s typically the first place consumers look for information about a restaurant’s brand, a menu can be a robust marketing tool for savvy operators.
“Today’s menus are an important part of the meal for both guests and restaurateurs, and understanding which items are most profitable, which ones bring people back and how to capitalize on them can help boost sales,” says Chicago research firm Food Genius. “You put a menu into the hands of every guest who visits your restaurant, every time they come in. That menu should be a workhorse for you.”
But for many operators, determining the best way to engineer their menus can be challenging. Here are a few strategies for leveraging the power of menu marketing:
Use detailed, vibrant descriptions
In order to make menus work their hardest, operators should include vivid descriptions of menu items that will generate excitement and tempt diners to open their wallets. According to a study by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, consumers are 27 percent more likely to choose a descriptive menu item, such as “New York Style Cheesecake with Godiva Chocolate Sauce,” rather than a normally labeled item, such as “Cheesecake.” What’s more, these consumers also said they were willing to pay almost 10 percent more for menu items with descriptions.
So what information should menu descriptions include in order to maximize sales? House-made items should be called out on menus, according to Food Genius, and operators should also highlight items that are gluten-free, vegetarian or suitable for other special diets.
Additionally, since consumers continue to be motivated by the wellness trend, menu items that include healthy or locally-sourced and sustainable ingredients should be labeled accordingly (think “local heirloom tomatoes”).
Offer and promote quality brands
It’s no secret that many consumers look for brands they recognize for a sense of ensured quality and familiar taste. Operators who offer recognizable brands and promote them on their menus can capitalize on these brands’ profit-boosting power.
“A decade ago, there seemed to be a wave of chain restaurants who used branded ingredients,” says Bev Cain, senior vice president of operations at Sandelman & Associates, a foodservice consumer research firm. “You saw that especially with alcohol. It wasn’t just a barbecue sauce; it was a Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauce.”
This trend is continuing today, says Cain, especially with brands that have high quality and high freshness factors. “Some chains are looking to align [themselves] with a brand to elevate that chain’s association and affinity, and thereby grow loyalty and frequency,” she says.
For example, quick-service burger chain Blake's Lotaburger prominently mentions Lipton Fresh-Brewed Iced Tea, including Lipton’s logo, on its beverage menu. Similarly, casual-dining chain BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse features Lipton Fresh-Brewed Iced Tea and Tropical Tea. By promoting a high-quality, recognizable iced tea brand, both Blake's Lotaburger and BJ’s are able to position their menu offerings as premium items as well.
Prepare dishes tableside
While not menu marketing per se, operators who prepare menu items tableside can add drama to the dining experience and create “table envy,” which can drive sales. House-made guacamole is one of the most popular examples of such presentation, but this is an area where it often pays to think outside the box.
For example, Gunshow, an Atlanta-based chef-to-table concept, introduced a roving cocktail cart this year. Diners are offered a choice of two house cocktails that are prepared to order, and the cocktails change weekly along with the restaurant’s menu. In the same way, T-Bones Chophouse in Las Vegas offers a Dover sole with tableside service, where the fish is filleted and the sauce is prepared to order at the table.
Ready to give your menu a much needed boost? Need some fresh ideas on how to maximize each step of the guest journey? Reach out to Unilever Food Solutions today! And be sure to see how Lipton® can help you generate more revenue from an often overlooked portion of your menu. Also check out their chain restaurant-specific content for powerful insights on growing and improving your business.
This post is sponsored by Unilever Food Solutions