What to consider when designing your menu as we head into the new year

Holistic revenue management has been a big topic and will remain so into 2020. Growing traffic is a challenge and brands are working hard to ensure their menus and service proposition are as profitable as possible. Alongside sustainable food and provenance, the focus will continue on menu design, menu engineering, upselling, encouraging return visits and providing convenience wherever possible throughout the customer journey.

However, the biggest shift we’ll see across the coming year is in technology. We expect a huge swing towards tech driving real-life scientific menu planning for operators come 2020. At RMS, we’ve recently conducted a far-reaching study with the University of South Florida to uncover the secrets of menu planning for the digital age. Regarded as the most comprehensive consumer menu ordering research in 30 years, the results could significantly impact how the industry treats menu design, pricing and, particularly, online ordering, which according to Technomic, now encompasses 30% of all restaurant sales.

The commissioned study – the first research partnership of its kind for the lab – uses biometric measures such as eye tracking, electroencephalogram (EEG), facial expression software and galvanic skin response to explore how consumers of different ages and genders review a menu. The goal is to learn whether consumers interact with menus differently across different media, including printed, online or mobile formats, and if their gender or age, particularly as it relates to being a digital native, play a role.

This research partnership is allowing RMS to forge new territory in the area of menu navigation and consumer behaviour to help operators run effectively in the ever-changing landscape of online ordering and off-premise dining.

The three-part study began in August 2019 with the review of menu formats. In the second phase, focus groups, comprised of a wide range of age and gender, will further our understanding of the motivation for the observations and key findings identified in phase one. The third phase, due to finish in early 2020, will be conducted in the field with fast casual restaurant partners who will have their menus re-designed according to research findings to test validity.

Menu design in the digital era

Menu design can play a huge part in the current age of the restaurant experience. Reading a menu involves imagination or experience to calculate the tastiness of an item. Leveraging all five senses can help expedite the decision-making process because these senses are immediate, help us to interpret data and sway the decision. The best menus incorporate visual cues, using photography, or invoke a physical showcase – think of the classic dessert trolley being rolled to the table. Consider scent too – freshly made bread, brewing coffee or the sweet smell of the cake display – harnessing the power of the senses is vital and will continue to bring a lot to menu planning throughout 2020 and beyond.

However, it’s digital signs, which rotate or display moving images, that can really assist with the effective delivery of visual cues in a way the modern consumer expects. Determining the content and pace of those messages dictates how successful they are. If not executed properly, digital signage can be detrimental to the business, for example displaying a message that can be misinterpreted by the customer because it moves too fast and no message is received or highlighting items that inadvertently result in a lower average spend.

Simply, the sight of well-presented food in a modern format, with evocative yet simple descriptions of each dish, will be intrinsic to restaurant design as we head into the new year and, by turn, demonstrate that it’s clear the menu remains crucial to success.