While there is much to be said for restaurant ambiance, decor, and food quality, a menu is often the first “real introduction” to a restaurant. It informs the customer of the food/drinks available, establishes restaurant pricing, and can also help shape the restaurant’s identity. The menu, in most cases, is a critical aspect of a restaurant’s marketing plan.
Menus are also significant because they can subtly influence your customers’ choices. A well-designed menu will appeal to customers, while a poorly designed menu can confuse customers and send the wrong message. The most successful restaurants are often extremely strategic about their menus and the accompanying content, design, composition, and style.
We all know what a menu is: it’s usually a list of food and drinks available at any given restaurant or establishment. The menu is also important because it’s an advertising and branding tool. Menus can tell a story about your restaurant, its cuisine, and your food and service quality. In other words, menus can help shape a restaurant’s identity.
Thanks to technology, a menu doesn’t need to be physical anymore. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant industry gave way to the rise of the QR code, which some believe will eventually replace the traditional restaurant menu altogether. Aside from QR codes, digital menus also have their own unique advantages.
Of course, there are essential menu questions to ask: will you highlight certain menu items for maximum profitability? Will the menu revolve around a core group of ingredients or not? How will your menu highlight specific “specials” or “deals”? What menu styles are your competitors using? What are the main types of menus for your kind of restaurant?
Here are some of the main factors to take into account when it comes to your menu:
- Color scheme
- Seasonal items/specials
- Cover design
- Menu pricing
You should take some time to consider different menu styles and menu categories that make sense for your particular restaurant. For example, if you have an upscale and exclusive restaurant, then your menu will probably look much different from a typical diner menu.
It’s also important to think about the big picture: making sure that a menu’s color scheme matches a restaurant’s decor, or using a menu cover design that makes sense with your restaurant’s overall branding/marketing goals. Let’s examine different menu names to determine what might make sense for your business.
Every restaurant is different, and many restaurants are catering to different demographics, serving different cuisines, and attempting to brand themselves in various ways. What types of menu and menu styles work for specific restaurants? Why should you consider one menu over another?
Let’s examine some of the main menu categories to consider. These types of menu include:
- A la carte
- Du Jour
In an A La Carte menu, each restaurant item is listed and priced individually. A La Carte menus are more often associated with upscale restaurants, and the menu items tend to be more expensive than other types of menu.
The French phrase “a la carte” translates to “according to the menu.” It’s a menu that allows for flexibility since customers can order items individually as they please.
The Du Jour menu is great for restaurants that might want to highlight a daily special or focus on fresh or seasonal ingredients. The Du Jour menu is often nicknamed the “chalkboard menu” since restaurants often change Du Jour items based on availability. These menu styles are ideal for busier restaurants since they can be updated several times a day.
The Du Jour menu usually accompanies a static menu. The French phrase “du jour” translates to “of the day.” You’ve probably seen phrases like “soup du jour” or “chicken du jour” to represent dishes a restaurant is serving that day.
A cycle menu can be defined in this way: it’s a menu with repeated options over a particular period of time. In terms of menu categories found in schools, hospitals, or cruise ships; the cycle menu is likely the menu used in these particular institutions.
Cycle menus are one of several types of menu that work for controlling food costs and taking advantage of seasonal foods. It’s also an excellent menu for a restaurant that might want to offer specials such as a daily cocktail or sandwich on every day of the week.
A static menu is the most widely used out of the menu categories. These menus are common because of their consistency, easy navigation, and options.
Many successful restaurants are known for their consistent and reliable options, and a static menu helps communicate that message to customers. A static menu is also typically separated into categories and features everything the restaurant has to offer.
A fixed menu is a menu with several items but always a fixed total price. There are two main types of menu when it comes to a fixed menu: prix fixe menus and table d’hote menus. While the words “fixed” and “static” are similar in other contexts; it’s important to note that fixed menus are different from static menus.
Prix fixe is French for “fixed price.” True to its name, a prix fixe menu offers little to no variability. These menus typically consist of an appetizer, entree, and dessert that is predetermined by the chef.
There is only one option per food course, and the entire meal is set at one price.
Table d’hote is French for “host’s table.” There is more variability here compared to prix fixe menus, since customers can choose from several options for each food course.
This term emerged during a time when hosts and hotel owners would serve house guests with meals at a communal table. In fact, the phrase goes back as far as 1617. These menus are more common in Europe than anywhere else in the world.
The world has gone digital, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated that digital transformation. The restaurant industry is no exception. These days, you’re likely to run into menus that aren’t on paper at all. Instead, these types of menus exist digitally.
There are two common types of digital menus: menu apps and QR codes.
Menu apps are digital menus that require an app download, and exist within a restaurant’s app. Menu apps aren’t a logical choice for restaurants that don’t have the money, resources, or knowledge on how to build and market an app.
A restaurant just getting off the ground, for example, should probably wait before deciding that a menu app makes sense. There needs to be some customer loyalty, after all, for customers to decide to download an app for a particular restaurant.
One of the most recent popular restaurant trends is the rise of the QR code. The QR code menu is a menu that customers can access with a mobile device, such as a smartphone. It requires customers to use a camera to scan the QR code.
QR codes are convenient because they save time for both servers and customers. For restaurants that switch items often, the QR code can offer a convenient way to update those items. The fact that a QR code doesn’t have to be downloaded also helps restaurants avoid data privacy issues that might affect those with menu apps.
One thing is for sure: regardless of menu styles or the types of menu you use - restaurant menus are incredibly important. Menus are not just about informing the customer but can also increase profitability, help maintain consistent branding, or even entertain. Thanks to technology, menus are now a factor in determining whether someone will actually go to your restaurant.
We covered the main types of menu, but it’s important to note that there are still other menu styles, menu categories, and menu names. For example, you can find dessert menus, cocktail menus, or appetizer menus at various restaurants worldwide. Some restaurants offer children’s menus to cater to families, as well.
Menus shouldn’t be an afterthought, even if some restaurateurs seem to overlook them. Many business owners should understand that their menu acts as their restaurant’s “business card”, and begin thinking about their menu as a valuable marketing tool rather than just a way to tell customers what’s currently available.