Running a Successful Restaurant: The Menu Format

Because such a large percentage of small businesses are restaurants, I would like to make a dedicated series of posts to running a successful restaurants. There will be a post for this series about once every week or two. Please email me requests for specific topics.

Like most small businesses, restaurants require perfection (or near perfection) in a large number of areas – simultaneously! Ambiance, price, profits, HR, customer service, menu, decor, insurance, financing, raw food material quality and acquisition, recipes… the list is never ending. In the midst of all this, a restaurant owner/manager needs to be careful not to let small (and not so small) details slip through the cracks. Also, s/he needs to decide when it might be most efficient and effective to bring in an outside expert.

One example of such a detail is menu design. No, I’m not talking about menu creation (which dishes will be offered), but about the actual design and medium of the menu itself. Each manager/owner has a different opinion about the importance of a good, relevant menu design. I’ve made a list of the full gamut of options available, with some pluses and minuses.

  • Chalkboard/Letterboard – There are some places that just have a big chalkboard behind the counter, a slightly more ‘classy’ place will have a letter board that you can move the letters around on.
    • CONS – You look cheap, people have to stand to order, they may have a hard time reading it, etc.
    • PROS – Cheap, easy to change
    • BEST USED – Best used at a ‘stand’ (snack, hot dog, etc) where there are just a few things on the menu (less than five) and the customer buys the food directly from the cashier.
    • CLICK HERE to Shop Menu Boards!
  • Back-Lit Sign -Many fast food restaurants have a large, back-lit sign behind the counter with the menu on it. Generally these have some large pictures of different ‘combo’s’ on them, often with designated numbers to make them easier to read and order.
    • CONS – Customers have to stand while reading the menu, they may have a hard time reading the parts of the menu that are not “combos”, hard to change.
    • PROS – If there are pictures, it can make the customer crave the food more, especially if there are combinations. They may start off planning to get a burger, but when they see it with fries and coke they’ll get what they see. And the pictures of dessert will also encourage them to buy more.
    • BEST USED – Fast food, when ordering directly from the counter, if there is a menu with less than 15 items, if customers already know the menu (BK, MCD, etc)
  • Paper Accordion Menus
    • CONS – Wear out quickly, tears, etc. Looks cheap. The entire menu has to fit on one page. It is not particularly impressive and does not entice the diner into more options. Often leads to paper wastes.
    • PROS – Inexpensive to createand easy to replace. The diner can decide what they want while sitting down.
    • BEST USED – This menu is ideal to send home with people for take-out/delivery. It can even be sent in a mailing.
  • Laminated Menus
    • CONS – Tougher/more expensive to change. If you want a good layout it could be pricier.
    • PROS – Relatively nice looking, especially if well designed, it can add to your restaurant’s ambiance and entice its readers into more/specific options. It also is sturdier than plain paper and can handle spills with no trouble.
    • BEST USED – A diner, even an upscale one, and low/middle tier ethnic cuisine.
  • Menu Jackets
    • CONS – More expensive than laminating on a “one-time” basis (however they are reusable), they do wear out eventually and can start to look ratty.
    • PROS – Classy, easy to slip new menus in and out, easy to clean. A wide array of color and pattern choices. Even a simple menu looks elegant in a menu jacket.
    • To Shop Menu Covers VISIT… Sewn Menu Covers OR Sealed Menu Covers
    • BEST USED – Middle and High class restaurants, diners and ethic cuisine.

Check out my other menu post.

Free Marketing Through Social Networking Sites

Did you know that you can use social networking sites to promote your business?  This is true whether you have a hair salon, a restaurant, a bar or an auto shop.  Social Networking sites (like MySpace ) are free and are a great way to advertise, build, and maintain your customer base.

A quick search on myspace showed eight salons in downtown Chicago and three bars.  Do a search of your zip code and see which of your competitors are on the social networking bandwagon.  Whether there are many, or none, it is in your best interest to try it out for yourself. 

You would be surprised to see how many people will connect with  you, especially if you have a sign on-site telling people about your myspace page.  You can use the page to post promotions, pictures and to chat with your customers.  In turn, their friends will see that you are connected with them.

Sign up to the sites and try them out!  If you have any customer email addresses, you can punch them in and see who is online.

Use today’s technology to help your business.