When looking for a place to dine, many consumers turn to websites such as Yelp and Urbanspoon, which can be great at helping diners find nearby eateries rated by their peers, but can often leave holes when it comes to information about those restaurants, especially the contents of the menu. Having an outdated or incomplete menu posted online can mislead prospective diners, which may ultimately result in them choosing another place to eat. It may seem easy for restaurant managers to take control of their online menus, but a restaurant may have an outdated menu posted on a website without even knowing it.
“Restaurants already have online menus, many without doing anything, because of larger Internet forces. Consumers rely on online searches to make dining decisions, so directory and guide companies have been copying menus onto the web for years to use as digital real estate,” said Jim Williams, founder and CEO of MustHaveMenus, which helps restaurants create and manage traditional and online menus.
“The question really boils down to whether the restaurant wants to control their online menu. Do they want the most recent, accurate and stylized version of their menu to appear at the top of the search results? Creating tools to move the control over to the restaurants is what companies like MustHaveMenus are doing.”
Using a menu-design service can also help restaurants avoid common menu mistakes such as us cluttering up menus with too many graphics or different fonts. Williams said clients of MustHaveMenus “do pretty well because they start with a professionally-designed template for their print menus. They can customize the template to match their restaurant, but basic design elements are built-in and ensure fewer mistakes.”
RIPE Eatery in El Paso, Texas partnered with MustHaveMenus when it came time to overhaul their menu and ended up with a cohesive collection of menus for multiple occasions and day-parts. “MustHaveMenus custom built a menu uniquely fitted to my restaurant concept and laid out in a way that was fresh yet familiar to my guests that have been coming here for years. We worked with them on trying different sizes, colors, and fonts until we got it just right. I feel the menu is a huge reflection of the type of restaurant you have and what your style is … It had to look as it was professionally designed, yet clean and not overcomplicated. We took the same overall look of the first menu we created (the dinner menu) and created a lunch menu, weekend brunch menu and then to-go menus for each as well,” said RIPE Eatery co-owner Adam Lampinstein.
Lampinstein said the new suite of menus is also a cinch to update online. “Since taking control of my menu online I am able to instantly control exactly what my customers are seeing as far as my daily offerings. I don’t have to wait for someone else to post my menus online, and if I notice an error at any time of the day, I can update my menu on the fly without any delay whatsoever.”
Having a menu that’s simple to update also allows restaurants to use their menu as a marketing tool, not just for the business in general but for special events and promotions. “Now that is has become so easy to update our menus from anywhere with Internet access, we have moved to updating our menus on a monthly basis, ” Lampinstein said.
“We partner with a different local nonprofit in our community each month and feature specials that month with a portion of proceeds going directly to them. We used to print separate fliers highlighting this, but now it is much less expensive to add that info to our current menu and print the entire menu fresh. With just one menu, we have significantly sold more specials and gotten more awareness out for our partner organizations.”
Menus can even be integrated into a restaurant’s social media presence, making it easy for consumers to see exactly what a restaurant has to offer. “MustHaveMenus has a Facebook app that lets restaurants anchor their menu to the top of their Facebook timeline. People who land on the page don’t have to scroll or search for the menu. And if you offer takeout, this helps regulars find their favorites before calling,” Williams said.
Williams noted that while an eye-catching, up-to-date menu can be a great addition to a restaurant’s Facebook page, it’s no replacement for photos showcasing an eatery’s food and atmosphere. “Our Facebook app also lets you post menus and fliers to the timeline. We suggest this be done only sparingly so as not to clutter the social conversation with your customers. Menus are not as good at creating a dialogue as, say, a photo of your newest entrée or a favorite dessert. Photos make friends tell friends, ‘let’s head down to the brewery and get a pint!’ Ideally, the menu and the social media are both community builders and encourage customers to return for more.”