Want to speed service? Start with your menu

New research shows that guests spend an average of nine minutes plowing through a menu because the array of choices is so extensive. But they also want comprehensive descriptions of dishes and prefer a conventional bill of fare over QR menus.
Simple is better, the data show. | Photo: Shutterstock

Restaurant workers aren’t the only ones relishing the trend toward simpler menus. New research shows the tighter bills of fare are drawing hallelujahs from patrons who’ve had their fill of poring through a tome to find what they want.   

In a survey of 1,000 consumers, foodservice distributor US Foods learned the typical restaurant guest invests nine minutes in that pre-ordering hunt. For 83% of the patrons, that’s after they’ve scanned the menu at home, work or on the drive over.  And that, in turn, is after spending an average of 14 minutes in deliberations over where to eat.

All told, the typical guest invests more than 23 minutes in a night out before they even place an order. Yet 82% of the respondents said convenience factors into their choice.

The respondents were apparently canvassed solely about their on-premises experiences and preferences. Restaurants have been striving to make those visits less exacting for time-pressed guests by adopting digital technology like tabletop ordering systems or phone apps useable inside the establishment.

Yet the survey participants showed limited appreciation for those time savers. A whopping 95% said they believe a restaurant should always have physical menus available.

QR codes were singled out in particular as bad solutions, with 89% of respondents saying they’d rather have a traditional bill of fare. One key reason: 1 in 6 participants admitted they didn’t know how to read the tags. In addition, 51% of the respondents said they could order faster off a conventional listing of dishes.

Yet there wasn’t much praise for the current state of menus. Four of 5 respondents (79%) said they have a difficult time deciding what to order. The main reason: Having too many options, the reply given by 54% of the respondents.

Only 15% said they typically had no difficulty finding something they’d like.

Prices were less of a deciding factor than knowing precisely what was in the options under consideration. The most important consideration in choosing an item, according to 65% of the participants, was the selection’s description.  More than two-thirds of the respondents (68%) said they prefer descriptions where all the ingredients are listed.

In addition, 74% said pictures on the menu influence their decisions, and 72% indicated they prefer menus that have depictions of the dishes.

Still, nine of 10 respondents said they weighed price to some extent. The average of what they’re willing to spend during a visit is $44 per person.

The survey was conducted by US Foods in September.


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