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A restaurant’s menu is one its greatest marketing devices, and has little to do with the design or what paper it’s printed on. The most successful restaurants steer clear of the following restaurant menu mistakes in order to build more profitable businesses, run more organized kitchens, and market their food more effectively.

Restaurant Menu Mistake #1: Don’t limit your ability to make changes.

Take a lesson from all of the restaurants that run on a rotating menu—nothing is permanent. Spending all of your marketing dollars on a thick stock of paper, with professional typography is only as rewarding as the time it takes for you to discontinue a dish.

Quickly, as Sharpie stains and white outlines begin to pile up, you’ll be saving up for next iteration of the menu. To limit these reproductions, try keeping your menu as simple as possible and avoid adding new items while they are still in trial mode. Leave room in the binding or elastic of your menu for “specials” that can be printed on a separate piece of paper, tucked inside, and changed quickly, as your menu changes.

Restaurant Menu Mistake #2: Don’t forget to put your menu online.

When people want to find out more about a meal at your restaurant, the first thing they want to know is what’s on your menu, so be sure to post yours online on your website. You can also add your menu to popular online menu sites like MenuPix and AllMenus, which are digital archives of restaurant menus, both quick take-out restaurants and gourmet bistro’s alike. Many menus that are submitted on MenuPix are simply scans of a physical paper menu, which makes your job really easy. AllMenus is mostly made up of HTML menus.

Want more insights on your menu? Check this out.

Restaurant Menu Mistake #3: Don’t post your website menu as a PDF.

One of the most loathed actions of restaurant-goers is having to download a file in order to see your menu online. The point of having a menu on your site is for people to quickly browse the items, which a PDF doesn’t allow you to do. It’s also not searchable by search engines, and it’s not mobile-friendly. Flash websites with Flash menus are even worse and aren’t viewable on iPhones or iPads.

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Restaurant Menu Mistake #4: Don’t forget to add personality to your menu.

Branding comes in many forms, and should not be neglected in your menu. One of the best menus I’ve come across is that of the Grape Room, in Middletown, RI. Their vibe is laid back and funny, even going as far as turning their tables into chalkboards, allowing patrons to play hangman and tic-tac-toe as they wait. On their menu, they have fun stories and captions including an introductory line that says, “no stupid baked white fish or chefs vegetable here“, and a burger menu subtitle that goes like this:

No, we don’t have the small ones and as we all know, size does matter.  Made fresh daily, we hand form 10 ounces that have never seen the inside of a freezer.  Ten ounces of fire-grilled beef – that’s 2 ½ times a quarter pound! This is a meal.  Pick one side.  Use two hands.  Napkins are free.

Right in line with the vibe, they have no hesitation in dropping a few small swears here and there or asking parents not to let their kids act like brats. Maybe your restaurant isn’t that bold, but there’s no doubt that the Grape Room establishes their brand across the board here.

Restaurant Menu Mistake #5: Don’t forget to spellcheck.

When you’re spending money on menus, don’t forget to spend time spellchecking your menu. If you don’t know how to spell something, how can you expect people to trust you to cook it?

Restaurant Menu Mistake #6: Don’t overwhelm guests with a big menu.

Even if you make every dish under the sun, doesn’t mean you. Twenty items on a menu is all that any restaurant needs, and allows you to focus on unique foods that will bring new guests in. When you have spaghetti, falafel and club sandwiches on a menu, nobody can decide what you make best and you have more opportunities to disappoint them—ensuring that they never return.

Restaurant Menu Mistake #7: Don’t forget to tell people what’s in your dishes.

A menu that doesn’t describe its items is likely to alienate guests and put unnecessary stress on your waiters. Is the dish hot? Cold? Remember, not everyone knows what Gazpacho is! Vegetarians and allergy-sensitive people are also very particular about what’s on their plate, so it’s smart to list all of the ingredients for good measure. Taking some time to put your foodie helmet on make all of your dishes sound as delicious as possible can turn two one-course $50 dinners into two full-fledged three-course meals with appetizers and desserts.

Check out Upserve’s Menu Ideas Guide!

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As part of Upserve’s family of more than 10,000 restaurants, The Chef is Restaurant Insider’s secret weapon in the kitchen. As a restaurant expert in all things marketing, menu building, management, training and more, restaurateurs trust The Chef and the award-winning Restaurant Insider to dish out the ingredients needed to make your business a sweet success.
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