How important is a great menu?

Joined Apr 4, 2002
thanks for everyones help on the previous topics that have been listed on this site. however, i have a new question:
How important is a really great menu, and what makes it great?
i know i don't go to a restaurant already knowing what is being served, but is a good looking, appetising menu enough to bring in loads if customers?
thanks for any help you can give


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
Can a menu (the physical menu itself) bring in customers? No way. Customers come to dine and be served, and though a menu plays a very important role in the dinning experience I am sure that most customers don't give it much of a thought.

Menus come in all shapes and forms: from the boards of fast food joints to the chalkboards of neighborhood "bars & grills" to the lamenated, multi-page tomes of family restaurants to the leather clad, works of art of fine-dining restaurants. But they all have one thing in common, to inform the diner of their options, and possibly describe those selections. It is important for the a menu to be well-rounded from the standpoint of what it offers. It should reflect the quality of the restaurant and should be kept neat and clean as that will definately influence a customers perception of a restaurant, but to say that a menu is what brings customers in, is stretching it a bit.

Once customers are in the door though, a menu is a very important tool, not to be overlooked. Wording should be thought about carefully, and spelling checked and re-checked as all of this will ultimately make an impact on the guest. Also the way a menu is designed will help determine what you sell. There are companies out there that do nothing but menu design that influence how customers order. And as I said earlier, menus should be neat and clean. Giving a customer a dirty or crumbled menu has the same effect on that person as a dirty restroom does. It all plays a part in how a customer percieves a restaurant.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
What Pete says is important. I wanted to comment on some of the exceptions and oddities of the menu-world. One thing I've noted is that the physical menu should harmonize with the rest of what is going on in the restaurant.

Two low-brow examples.

There is an Italian joint in town that comes to mind by the name of Lukes. They're a blue-collarish kind of place, but the crowd has turned more professional as the blue collar jobs of the area have gone away.

The menu is a three panel job with multiple plastic clips on the top edge. Script printed cards are inserted in the clips with one special on each one. The various specials are mostly what get ordered and this is rather helpful. It's a bit cluttered but it works because that is the sort of "atmosphere" they have.

Another is Chuck 'n' Fred's. They had the standard two panel menu that was the same for 15 years. Chuck 'n' Fred liked to fish and they ran this place from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM M-F so they could finance their fishing. And they cooked like men in camp. Lots of good food and fun.

A non-menu example.

David's Kitchen is an upscale chinese place. Green linen table cloths and napkins. You won't get a menu unless you ask. David seems to always be there and he will come to the table and guide you through a chinese dinner that's great. If you do get a menu, its a cheap plastic case with a green paper insert. Don't order off the menu. The personal care and involvement of David really adds to eating there and in getting what the kitchen really has to offer.

Joined Sep 21, 2001
I one worked for a place that used to advertise that one of their unique qualities was the had the biggest menu in town. A 12 page tome that encompassed just about every food trend or sorta-trend that the owners had ever heard of. There was only one problem. The food was worse than bad. The prep and inventory to support that albatross was well, for me job security, but for the customers and the owners a bad situation. SPOILAGE! AND for the unfortunate customer who decided to wander off the first couple of pages of popular of dishes, inexperienced preparation because the current line cook may not have ever even served that particular entree or whatever. Servers who were clueless of what everything was on the menu.
But the menu itself was fine. The descriptions sounded good. It was a well-made book. It must have cost a bundle to print. Just don't try to run a restaurant with it.
And when I think back to working there, many years ago,(btw-the place went bankrupt about a year later) I like to remember something I thought of way back when-
"Famous Amos made it with ONE COOKIE!" -Peachcreek
Joined Dec 2, 2000
We had the opportunity to squeeze in a wonderful dinner 2 nights ago.
A neighborhood Greek place with a very small menu.
3 entrees, 4 pasta dishes, 3 salads and about 10 appetizers.
Wine and beer only..
all meals under $15
The place was packed , had the best service and the food was inpeccable.
Clean as can be and courteous staff to boot.
So a short but sweet menu is just as effective.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
I've worked at an incredibly popular restaurant that served one meal Wed-Sat....that was along time ago....but there is a chef in town that has set dinners going for about $100pp and he does very well open only a few days a month.
Joined Jun 1, 2002
Along my lengthy road to unlimited knowlege, I had the delightful experience of working in management for S&A restaurant Corporation out of Dallas. They owned and operated 200 or so Bennigan's restaurants. It was the early 80's and times were changing. The auto industry had gone bust and hoards of workers left Detroit and moved to Houston Texas to work on off-shore oil rigs in the oil industry, which was booming. Houston was booming and I was there, a mangager in training in a suberb north of the city.

I remember Madd, the group of mothers who began the powerful lobby against drunk driving. They soon had an impact on the perception of drinking and driving. Soon the market began to change. "Funeateries" like Fridays, Bennigans and a few others began changing thier emphasis from bar/restaurants to restaurant/bars. They feared that anything more than a 30% contribution of liqour sales was dangerous. Food would keep people coming back. Liqour, while more profitable, is fickle and the publics perception of drinking and driving would certainly have an impact on sales. And they were right.

Suddenly they were in a hurry to develop a full service casual meal menus with a huge emphasis on.......everything. Kind of epitimised American cuisine at the time--a little bit of everything--lots of options--mediocre but affordable fun with cocktails. Corporate chefs were busy standardizing how thier new labor force that they would need to hire more of (fast food workers) could produce pre-sets, pre-prepared menu componants assembled in advance that could quickly be mirowaved and served in along side juniors hamburgers and gramdmas cajun chicken salad.

The results were what we have today. Corporate restaurantopolis: Applebee's, O'Charleys, Chili's etc. A Denny's with a bar. A genre of restaurants that cover all the menu bases and are proud of it. And that is an American strory.

To answer your question though, menu is everything, it is the heartbeat of the financials and marketability of the restaurant. But it is not the physical menu that speaks loudly, it is the concept of the menu that is remembered and patronized.

Less is more if you ask me.


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
Menu is nothing. Image is everything. Or is it image is nothing, thirst is everything? In anycase, it depends on where you choose to showcase your menu. If your menu is meant to showcase your restaurant, then of course, menu is everything. In this case your menu IS your restaurant. Your menu will tell people what your restaurant is all about, what they can expect, and whether or not they want to eat there. Many pizza restaurants use this tactic.

On the flipside, most diners don't know what they're going to get when they go to Charlie Trotters or the French Laundry. In this case, the opposite is true. People expect the menu to be a reflection of the restaurant's reputation and image. Of course, most restaurants fall in between. You just have to decide where you stand.

Joined Oct 28, 2001
If you have an established reputation and a regular clientele with more reservations than you can handle then the menu you display is not a key factor (although it must have been good to get you to that stage). But if you're interested in more business (or better or different business) then the menu you display is your key selling point. Over the years I have been fortunate to dine in many places around the world, often in unfamiliar places with unusual local dishes and ingredients so my only guides are the look of the place and the menu. Given that some of the worst meals have been in beautifully decorated places and some of the best in "hole-in-the-wall" types I tend to stick with checking the menu on display. Content (style and number of dishes), structure, presentation, typeface/handwriting, card/paper type, descriptions (or lack of), illustrations, pricing, age (is it daily/seasonal/same all year), plus a number of other subtle clues are all there to read. I reckon just by looking at the menu I can tell what the dining experience is going to be like and am proud to say I am very rarely wrong, and never seriously adrift. Usually it is a better experience too, although the menu must have been good enough to get me in there in the first place.
So the menu is everything and although pfoodman may disagree, your concept of the menu must, and does, show in the physical entity.
Joined Jun 1, 2002
There is a new restaurant not far from my home. While waiting to get a haircut, I browsed there menu. It was right next door. The menu was enough for me to comment to my wife that I would like to try it soon. The clever descriptions got my attention. I wanted to do business with whomever wrote the clever menu. So no disagreement here.

But of course there is something to it. Menus provide patrons with information; what the restaurant offers, how much it costs. Rarely do I go to a restaurant and not see a menu. The menu is important. But I still stand by my post that the menu is the heart and sole of the operation, the marketibility--what is to be purchased, priced and prepared for guests at a profit. Preparation sheets are generated by them, check averages are generated by them, changes are made based on the movement of menu items. Menus are a the written word of the proprietor, what is to be expected. The menu has little to do with poor service or food that has not been prepared according to the description. I rarely recomend a restaurant where the food and service is poor but the menu is really something.

To me, a menu that is well done, no typos, clever and clean builds a lot of confidence in my choice to dine there. But usually I am already seated at the table munching on crackers. :rolleyes:
Joined Oct 13, 2001
Hey folks , good advice from all . Remember that a menu is your mouthpiece to the customer . I have found that the secret to success with a menu is to do everything on it better than anyone else . If you make a cheeseburger make a great cheeseburger . Attention to detail with the food will make it work whatever the menu . Like it has been said , just dont spread yourself to thin . Either do it right and be the best , or dont do it at all . of course this is just my opinion .......... Doug
Joined Oct 28, 2001
Perhaps I did not make myself entirely clear. What I said is that apart from the actual words on the menu the whole presentation is what counts. I have seen (particularly in the US) menus which have obviously been written by a menu-writing professional. And often they are too slick, too "professional" and you just know that no way are they going to be able to live up to the items as listed (given the price/location/presentation and all that other interesting stuff). So it is not just what is listed, it is the whole subtext thing and, given enough experience and diligence, you can work out what the dining experience is going to be JUST from the menu, and that includes the service, ambience as well as the food itself. And spelling and grammar mistakes all add to the sum of knowledge and don't necessarily rule a place out, so pfoodman might still be in with a chance, heart and "sole" notwithstanding:)
Joined Jun 1, 2002
Great idea. Change the direction since we all basically agree that the physical menu is important. And this is indeed the catering forum. Great thoughts by all.

I am dissapointed when a customer asks me to drop a catering menu in the mail, or fax one to their office. I am not really sure the last time I sold some of the things on our latest version. But it is there, printed and good, ready to be sent out and read by who knows who. It had better be good in this case scenario. Our latest thing was to create a web site that clients can log into--observe the menu online and make their order by filling out various fields. Kind of a neat concept but there are kinks to work out--billing etc. Asp. versus a brochure type website. Great for corporate and educational clients. Lots of work to do on this.

Most of our elegant catered events are unique and require custom design. At least that is what I try and get my clients to understand. Unless it is a drop off or simple delivery, we rarely use the menu. There are a list of things during an inquiry that "build" the necessity for a custom menu. My clients often just give me the day, time and number of people coming, then look to hear from me later with a proposal for their event made special just for them. There is marketability in custom menu making but it often spreads one thin. Being creative takes me a lot of time.

But this keeps things fresh and inovative.

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