How to create a menu

How big should your menu be? What do you offer? How much is too much? Oh, the questions! Luckily, there’re some studies done on the matter. Not so much on menus, but more on how people make decisions. This is how to create a menu that your customers can use with ease and what the implications are on your business.

What is the “Choice Overload Problem”?

A study done by Sheena Iyengar at Stanford University showed that some interesting stuff happens when you give people too much choice. The study was conducted at Draeger’s Grocery Store using their choice of 348 varieties of jam (as someone who is partial to a bit of jam, even I think this is excessive). Iyengar and the store manager set up a tasting stand at the entrance of the store, putting either six or 24 types of jam for people to try. In each case, they looked at two things; firstly, how likely people where likely to stop and try some. They found that, 60% stopped to try when there were 24 jams as opposed to 40% who stopped to try the display of six. The next thing they looked at was how likely people where to buy a jar of jam. Now here’s the strange part; in the case of the 24 jars, only 3% of people bought a jar of jam. Of the people who tried the six jams, 30% bought a jar. That means that the people who stopped to try the six jams were six times as likely to buy a jar from the variety of 24.

So how does this relate to a restaurant or café? Imagine you have your menu posted outside your venue for potential customers to see. When those customers see a huge menu with loads of choices, they are far less likely to enter your venue because they already feel overwhelmed. But there’s more! There have been three main negative consequences found by Iyengar et al (grief, this is like being back at uni) that arise from giving people too much choice.

  1. Delayed choosing/procrastination
  2. Bad quality decisions
  3. Less satisfaction

Number one may not be such an issue in a hospitality setting, the customer will probably just ask staff to ‘give them a few more minutes to decide’, no biggie. However, the other two, we are very concerned about indeed!

They are very much interlinked and the reason for these bad decisions leading to less satisfaction, is that; offering people too much choice, means they can’t compare and items efficiently and easily enough to make an educated decision. This means the decision is ill-thought out and means that it won’t be a good one. So, what you end up with are customers that are forever ‘partially satisfied’. And as we all know mediocre doesn’t cut the mustard (pun very much intended). To add to this level of middle-of-the-road satisfaction, you have the age-old saying of “quality, not quantity”. People won’t be impressed with the size of your menu, but how well you execute the things that are on it. Is it not better to have five mains that you expertly, than 15 mains whose only rival is that dodgy burger van which parks outside the pub on a Friday night?

The solution

There are three simple techniques you can use to make sure that you are only offering the best to your customers.

  1. Cut down your menu!

Don’t be afraid to wave goodbye to some of those items on the menu. By doing this, you are likely to see a saving in stock costs and see an increase in sales. This phenomenon has been seen in some of the largest companies in the world, and it can work in your restaurant or café too. Start by eliminating the worst selling items on your menu and concentrate on the ones that bring in the most revenue. Fine tune them, and make sure that they are the best that they can be. Meza has a report that you can generate to show how much revenue each dish or item is brining to your business. Take the ones at the bottom and politely tell them that their services are no longer required.

  1. Make it real

If you can, add some pictures. People love pictures! It will make it real for them so they can put their choice into context. It will give them valuable information on things like portion size, which could swing them one way or the other.

  1. Categorise

If you still feel the need to offer a plethora of dishes, try categorising them. If you put things into categories, customers can tell items apart far more easily. Instead of having 20 mains under one heading, split them up into ‘seafood/vegetarian/chicken’ etc. Putting items into categories means they can be split up in the customers head and the decision making process is a lot easier.

So remember, don’t overwhelm your customers; help them make the right decision. If you want to see Sheena Iyengar’s talk on making choosing easier, click here.