Effective Digital Restaurant Menus

By Sarah Shuda
Posted in Design

Design tips for presenting your restaurant’s menu online.

Online Restaurant Menu Design
Online Menu from The Tavern Grill (above)

Online marketing fills a lot of restaurant seats, but what drives a new customer to visit a restaurant they discover online?

Nearly 30% of customers who are driven by online marketing are influenced by the availability of an online menu.

That's a big percentage of people worth tapping into.

Online Restaurant Menus

The best way to present and manage a menu online is to use your own website to display your restaurant menu. If you are sending someone from a search listing on Google or your profile on Yelp to view your menu, you'll want them to also be able to make a reservation or find directions easily too. If you're using a third party to display a menu, you may not be able to provide all your information in one handy place. Visitors don't want to search various sites to find the information they need to make a decision.

It's important to have a plan in place to update the menu if you have one that is changing quite frequently. Nothing is worse than having a customer come in expecting to find a dish you no longer serve.

Many sites like Yelp offer the ability to create a menu aside from your own website. Make sure if you are taking advantage of this, both menus are consistent and updated on a regular basis. It's easy to forget the many places you have available to you. If you can't keep them updated, find someone to help you out or consider waiting until you do have the time. No information is better than misleading your customers with old menu items or incorrect prices.

Talk to a web designer and/or developer to help get something setup for your own site which will be easy to work with and edit.

Menu Design

PDF Menus

A common trend for many restaurants is to offer downloadable PDF files. Many restaurants do this to save on costs to update both a printed menu and online menu. But it results in a poor experience for mobile web users, especially those with a slower internet connection. How often are you on the go and searching for a restaurant? Quite frequently. Downloading a PDF takes more time and uses up more data to do so.

Offering an HTML based menu that also displays well on a mobile device is key in reaching a much larger group of potential visitors. Maintaining a menu directly on your website can be easy and a great asset to your business. Providing a memorable experience starts BEFORE your customer walks through your door.

Hours and Restrictions

Do you serve breakfast, lunch and dinner? Are certain menu items only available during specific times of the day? Make sure you communicate this information on your online menus. Since you don't have the luxury of physically placing a breakfast menu in front of your customer, you have to make sure they know what to expect and when.

Too Many Choices

Don't overcomplicate your menu. Guests have a hard enough time choosing what they'd like to eat. The more options you give them, the more time they spend at your table and the less guests you'll be able to serve. If you complicate your online menu you may lose your potential customer before they make it to your restaurant. It's a phenomenon of being overwhelmed by too many choices, also called the Paradox of Choice.

In 1995 a study was conducted using jams in a grocery store. Participants were shown a tasting booth with 6 jars of jams to select from. Every few hours the jams were switched out with a selection of 24 jams. In the study led by Professor Iyengar, sixty percent of customers were drawn to the large assortment, while only 40 percent stopped by the small one. But 30 percent of the people who had sampled from the small assortment decided to buy jam, while only 3 percent of those confronted with the two dozen jams purchased a jar. Source: The New York Times

Don't make the mistake of overwhelming your visitors online or in-person with your menu.

Displaying Prices

If you do have the time or resources to keep your menus updated, do consider including pricing. When a customer is searching for a restaurant online price can be a big factor. If you don't list pricing at all you risk the chance of being passed up.

Featuring specials, coupons and other promotions prominently on your menu (and throughout your site) is an excellent way to fill your seats.

Over 1/3 of consumers influenced by online restaurant marketing are persuaded by special offers, coupons and deals before any other form. - Forbes

There are other ways a visitor might gain an understanding of your price points. If you have a very high-end looking website, they may assume you are expensive without looking at pricing. Make sure your design accurately represents your restaurant accurately and honestly. You'll only end up disappointing or misleading customers.

Beautiful Photography

Dinner Photo by Pan Pacific
Photo by Pan Pacific

Many restaurants choose to display photos of some of their staple dishes. If you do have a few house specialties, it's a great idea to give your visitors a visual taste of what you offer. It can certainly be a driving force in getting them through the door.

Social Media Integration

Social Media on Restaurant Menus

Using a lot of photos throughout your menu? Nothing is more persuasive than seeing a delicious cupcake or entree' in your Facebook feed! Allow your visitors to share your menu items on their favorite social media channels. Consider Pinterest and Facebook more prominently if you are displaying lots of great photography with your items. A picture says a thousand words.

Your menu is generally the main reason guests come through the door. Don't throw it by the wayside online. Give your potential customers a great experience the moment they have contact with your brand online. They may even tell their friends!

Sarah Shuda

Meet Sarah Shuda

Designer. Writer. Wife. Enjoys blueberry coffee, pinot noir, traveling & bicycling.

Twitter @sarahshuda