Take just a moment to think about the pillars of your restaurant’s marketing strategy.
Your first thought was probably social media. Maybe your website. Perhaps you do some paid ads, either online or in old-fashioned print.
But I’d be willing to bet that your menu was not at the top of that list. It may not be on the list at all.
Your menu is a tool to help your current guests navigate your food options. But that’s only half of it. It also has to sell people on your restaurant before they even come in the door.
According to OpenTable, 93% of people look at menus online before deciding to dine out. If your menu isn’t making a good case for your restaurant, you’re not turning those site visitors into customers.
A good menu can serve three different marketing objectives—promoting the product, building the brand, and improving visibility.
1. Sell the Product Through Appealing Descriptions
When you shop for anything online, you look for a product description. This is where you learn about the product’s bells and whistles, and (if the copywriter did their job) how these features will benefit you.
A menu is simply a collection of product descriptions with the same basic job—to sell the food. The food has to sound good enough to convince someone to spend their money on it hours or days in advance—before they’re even hungry!
The menu will also answer some basic questions, especially those about dietary restrictions. Are vegans/vegetarians or gluten-free diners accommodated? How about those with a dairy or shellfish allergy?
In short, the menu has to tell the reader that the food is a) delicious, b) in the price range they’re looking for, and c) can accommodate any special dietary or group needs. Does your menu do all those things?
PS: Check out this blog post to learn more about writing menu descriptions.
2. Build the Brand (aka Pass the Vibe Check)
Different customers are looking for different restaurant styles at different times. One married couple may look for any or all of these types of restaurants:
- Romantic spot for date night
- Kid-friendly option for the 8-year-old’s birthday
- Somewhere hip for dinner with friends
- Wine bar with snacks for book club
When writing your menu, ask yourself: does this fit in with our overall brand and vibe? You don’t want the menu to be the sticking point that loses the sale. The photos of your high-end restaurant may look beautiful, but if the menu comes across as too casual it may not seal the deal for special occasions.
Branding, colors, fonts, writing style, and menu items themselves must all fit in with your restaurant’s overall vibe.
3. Improve Visibility Through SEO
The menu can also help guide visitors to your site through search engine optimization. When people search for specific cuisines, search engines crawl websites to find applicable results. A menu full of pasta and Italian dishes indicates to Google that your restaurant may satisfy local searches for Italian food.
Of course, this is only if the search engines can read your menu. It’s very easy for these “crawlers” to read your website’s code and embedded text. It’s not always as easy to read a PDF, which can be interpreted as a picture rather than text. This is part of why I advocate for searchable HTML menus instead of PDF menus.
Restaurants Are SO Lucky
I can’t think of another industry that can rely on so many web visitors all filtering through a single page before deciding to buy. Instead of optimizing hundreds of product and sales pages, it all comes down to a single menu (or maybe a few, like happy hour and brunch).
With so much riding on the menu, it’s a pretty key piece of the puzzle. Take a fresh look at your menu and ask yourself: Is it doing its three jobs? And if not, how can you make it better?
If you need help, I’m ready with itchy typing fingers! I can help you optimize your menu descriptions and put it to work, the lazy bum.