Menu Psychology: Stop Making Meals and Start Creating Experiences

By Michael Barbera CEO, Barbera Solutions | August 21, 2016

Here's why I admire menus: it's the only marketing content that's guaranteed to be read. Once the consumer is seated at a table, they are almost guaranteed to make a purchase. Less than one percent of patrons are likely to depart a restaurant after being seated. Therefore, 99 percent is an outstanding conversion rate that digital marketers would sell their first born to achieve. I would say congrats to all the restaurateurs for achieving this amazing feat of feasts, but we have to be forthright, your margins are miserable. The purpose for our research was to understand how consumers increase spending after viewing a menu, and we've discovered that creating an experience is the catalyst.

First, you control the room. We transition the meal to a consumer experience that cannot be matched by competitors. By doing so, we control the esthetics, environment, verbiage, emotions, and more importantly the price, which is a communication multiplier.

I've met many restaurateurs that placed menu items on their menu solely because they felt it was the appropriate location. This was repeatedly executed without rhyme, reason or research. However, the consumers didn't miss out. The consumers likely enjoyed a good tasting meal with friends or colleagues, but it's likely the restaurant that missed the opportunity to increase revenue.

Margins are a restaurant's worst nightmare. Variable costs and expiration dates on perishables could decimate a restaurant if not carefully accounted for. Margins are difficult and challenging, but can be increased through the sale of additional items.

I'm sure you have been to a Chili's restaurant. Remember the time you were visually scanning the menu. You likely identified a small chili pepper similar to the restaurant's logo, which was carefully placed next to a few menu items. We see this and we overtly think, "this must be a good item, it's recommended by Chili's". This statement couldn't be more inaccurate. The clever marketers at Chili's meticulously placed these enticing Chili's next to menu items that consisted of the best margins. These items earned the company the most profit. Of course they want you to buy it, it's a significant return on investment.

The type of menu presented to the consumer is equally as important as what's listed on the menu. The menu's look, touch, feel and smell should correspond with the environment and esthetics of the restaurant as well as cater to those who are in the restaurant's target audience. This is a topic that could easily fill a book (a big book!). There are single page menus, bi-fold's, tri-fold's, plastic covered and wooden menus. Choose the one or several that are most appropriate for your restaurant.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.