The menu is a critical tool for any business to interact with their customers. It is also one of the most ignored parts of a restaurant or bar, as people often just order from it blindly without reading what they will receive. This can be dangerous because there are many ways that menus could benefit from being redesigned and rethought.
When it comes to menu design, restaurant owners typically fall into the trap of thinking like economists rather than consumers. People want to obtain as much as they can at the lowest price, according to a common economic theory. At a feed store or a gas station, such strategy may work, but most of your consumers want a memorable experience at a fair price.
I had an intriguing encounter the other day at a restaurant. My wife and I used to go to Noodles & Company often every week since it was reasonably priced and offered a diverse selection of noodle meals from across the globe. We’d always get The Trio, which includes an entrée, choice of meat, and soup for little over $7. What’s not to appreciate about that?
We were traveling around town about a week ago when we saw a new Noodles & Company down the street. As I walked in, I was overcome with nostalgia as I smelled curry and saw framed images of bright chili peppers, spice shops, and elephants in rice paddies. It was great to be back.
When I glanced at the menu, I knew something wasn’t quite right. What happened to The Trio? Almost every item on the menu was familiar to me, but my particular request was nowhere to be found. A completely adjustable, a-la-carte menu with a price next to each choice took its place. To say the least, I was dissatisfied.
The new menu was terrible. Here’s why:
1. We like the feeling of being insiders.
When dining or shopping, people want to feel unique. We felt less like a regular client and more like we sneaked through the back door to hang out with the chef when they offered us a special bundle or a perceived discount.
If your menu is lengthy, provide a streamlined option that allows customers to go straight to the finest of what you have to offer. Alternatively, if your menu is basic, teach your workers to “leak” an off-menu item or two to consumers. Your objective is to make a consumer feel like they’ve nearly figured out how to wire the place after their first visit. Give them a “insider tip” that they can pass on to their friends, and they’ll be more inclined to mention you.
Ask anybody from California about In-N-Out Burger, and they’ll tell you how to order a burger and fries from their hidden menu the “proper way.”
2. We don’t need as many choices as you believe.
When individuals are given with too many alternatives, social scientists have shown that they become confused and dissatisfied. If you just give them two tastes, they’ll grow despondent; if you give them 23, they’ll be too agitated to purchase.
People can’t pick between 23 different types of anything without experiencing a sense of loss from all the choices they’ve given up. So don’t imagine that giving your customers the kitchen sink would make them happy.
A few months ago, an ice cream store opened across the street from our office, and I believe it hits the right combination of simplicity and diversity. When I first stepped in, I was pleasantly pleased to see that there were just five flavors available at any one moment. I could tell they had carefully chosen each one, and it was simple to figure out which taste I would like. I made it a point to return since the tastes varied from week to week.
Which gets me to the second point I’d want to make:
3. We want to believe that what you’re presenting us has been well considered.
Customers like a feeling of intrigue. Yes, this seems to contradict Point #1, but a meal’s experience is more than the sum of its pieces. If you take the time to create a unique experience for your customers, they’ll remember the ambience, the flavor of the food, and all the other lovely intangibles that encourage them to come back. Customers will see your items as commodities and concentrate just on the price if you show no originality in how you sell them.
Back to my Noodles & Company experience: my personalized, a-la-carte dinner (Wisconsin Mac & Cheese with beef and a Thai Curry Soup, in case you’re curious) came to just under $8—the price of the original Trio—but I still felt nickel-and-dimed.