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Good high resolution images of your food offerings are a great way to enhance your online menu
<p>Good, high resolution images of your food offerings are a great way to enhance your online menu.</p>

The new psychology of menu design

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Traditionally when you think of menu design, you think of expertly crafted leather-bound menus with bold colors and over-the-top descriptions. Today’s restaurant menus are changing. With the advent of new technologies, more restaurants are adding digital menus to their websites and tabletops.

As more people begin looking at menus online, the old tricks and standards of menu design don’t work anymore. Restaurants are faced with the challenge of making their menus both user friendly and psychologically designed to sell. The internet has changed the menu game, and these are the new rules.

Usability comes first

A digital menu is experienced in a different way than a print menu and needs to be usable. It’s easy to upload a low resolution cell phone picture of your print menu or post a menu using jarring flash animation. Neither approach will increase the usability of your online menu or website. Your menu should encourage customers to stick around instead of clicking off.

When a customer is sitting at a table in your restaurant, it is unlikely they will get up and leave unless something awful happens. However, when they are on your website it doesn’t take much to click away and go somewhere else if your menu loads slowly or isn’t readable. A usable and readable menu will keep your potential customer browsing.

Millennials in particular are pretty impatient in general and they are also web savvy. A flash animation that won’t load on their smartphone or a low resolution picture with unreadable text could be all it takes to lose their business.

Embrace change

One of the nice things about a digital menu is that it is (with some basic web skills) relatively easy to change. Unlike paper menus that need to be re-designed, printed, and covered for every update, digital menus allow you to add a fresh new dish with just a few clicks.

Smart restaurant managers take full advantage of making menu changes quickly and easily. For example, you can highlight the items you think will sell well on a particular day, such as cold drinks and light meals in nice weather or soups and hot beverages on a chilly day.

You can also change out entire sections based on a holiday or season. Feature your famous green salad on St. Patrick’s Day then switch it out for your special egg dishes at Easter in a matter of minutes.

Visualize it

An appetizing photo on a menu can increase sales of that item by 30 percent or more. On a paper menu, you have limited space, and therefore you probably only include images for a few select items, if you include images at all.

Online menus get rid of this problem. You can easily incorporate pictures of what you want to highlight visually for your customers without running out of space. Most online formats allow you to create different sections and pages, giving you plenty of room for an image of each dish or an expanded look a photo and more detailed text.

On the internet, you are also competing with customer images from Yelp and other review sites. A grainy cell phone picture of a half eaten meal doesn’t look particularly appetizing. Don’t let your customers rely on amateur photos of half-eaten meals to see what your food looks like. Take control of the appearance of your offerings by providing high resolution, and, if possible, professional images of your dishes when they scan your online menu.

Improve ordering

In a restaurant setting, customers can be distracted or feel rushed. When they look at menus online, they tend to spend more time and notice things they may not have otherwise. Allowing your customers to see your menu ahead of time can help them feel less rushed and distracted once they’re seated.

Online orders tend to be larger and more expensive than those made in-store. Additionally, customers are more likely to add items like side dishes when ordering online compared to over the phone. When customers call in an order, they usually order just what they planned. However, when a customer can peruse a well-designed online menu, they are more likely to modify their selection to include more of the appetizing dishes they can see and add easily to their order.

Use social proof

Social proof is a phenomenon where people will adopt the actions or opinions of a group of people they trust. You can leverage social proof to increase your business by publishing customer reviews and pictures of happy patrons right on your online menu and website. Potential customers are more likely to order from you if they see other people enjoying your food and restaurant.

Menus of the future

Menus will continue to change along with changes in society and technology. Perhaps one day technology will be used to change menu items instantly based on individual preferences or health concerns. Maybe images or details will pop up based on where the customer’s eyes linger. For now, following the new rules of menu psychology will help you engage customers and keep them coming back for more.

Marvin Doerfler is the CEO of The Menu Shoppe, a provider of high quality menu covers.

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