Menu engineering, the process restaurateurs use to analyze the cost and popularity of menu items and adjust pricing to maximize profitability, is more important than ever for Canada’s foodservice operators.
The industry faces many challenges in this late-pandemic period, including staffing shortages, supply issues and rising costs. As patio season winds down, consumer hesitancy about in-restaurant dining continues, yet many people are eager to return to their favourite spots. Demand for takeout & delivery and expectations for a demonstrably safe dining experience remain high.
As a result, many restaurants are looking to downsize menus to upsize revenue, focusing on dishes that hit the sweet spot where high sales and maximum profit meet. They also need the flexibility to quickly change what’s on offer, as well as ways to demonstrate their ongoing commitment to in-house dining safety.
Operators need to go beyond the traditional, time-honoured calculations of menu engineering to reconsider the very nature of menus. How can they be easily changeable and available to patrons as conveniently and safely as possible?
The answer is digital restaurant menus.
“The main benefits of using digital menus are ease of access and flexibility. Any customer can view a digital menu anywhere . . . restaurant owners can add or modify menu items at any time.”Amina Gilani, Co-Founder and COO of Sociavore
The benefits of digital restaurant menus
- Access and Agility — Amina Gilani, Co-Founder and COO of Sociavore, the independent restaurant website platform and Brand Points PLUS partner, says, “The main benefits of using digital menus are ease of access and flexibility. Any customer can view a digital menu anywhere, right from their smartphone, tablet or computer, even after hours when the restaurant is closed. Restaurant owners can add or modify menu items at any time without having to print new physical menus.”
- Many Ways to Share Your Brand Story — Digital menus go beyond simply listing food choices; they’re important marketing tools, since so many people check out menus online before choosing a restaurant to visit or order from. Your digital menu is a way to complement the brand story you tell on your website and in your physical premises.
- Maximizing Profit — Designing menus to highlight the most profitable items can influence customer choices to help restaurants maximize profit. Gilani says that digital menus give you the ability to “create engaging menu descriptions and add mouth-watering food photography to accompany each menu choice.”
- Expanded Information — Digital menus allow customers to easily access information about dietary concerns and restrictions, which traditionally have required conversations with the server. With the click of a link, customers can check ingredients and nutritional details.
- A Shoppable Experience — Your static digital menu can be converted into a shoppable ordering menu. Gilani says this allows customers “to browse and place orders for pickup or delivery right from your restaurant website.” With Sociavore’s commission-free delivery integration you can save on third-party delivery fees and retain your customer data too.
Different Ways to Digitize Your Menu
Menu digitization ranges from low-tech options to highly integrated systems:
- At the lowest tech level, some restaurants simply post photographs of menus on their website or Facebook page. The photography isn’t always optimal, but even when it is, readability can be an issue, especially on mobile devices. And the photos need to be reloaded each time the menu changes.
- Other restaurants upload PDF menus to their website and social media. This approach has the same mobile readability and reloading challenges as photos.
- Next level up are web-based menus. “Restaurateurs can use Sociavore to create and manage digital menus on their restaurant websites. With a few clicks of a button, you can add new items, limit inventory, add custom fees and taxes, and more,” says Gilani.
- Making QR (quick response) codes — those square barcodes that look a bit like abstract art — available on tabletop, at the storefront, and on marketing materials is the next rung up the digital menu ladder. They allow customers to quickly click through to the most current version of your digital menu as soon as they’re seated.
- Finally, QR codes can be integrated with contactless ordering and payment systems. A Restaurants Canada press release from December 2020 states: “QR codes are the new norm for menu viewing, touchless ordering, and paying the bill.”
A Deeper Dive into QR Codes
While QR codes have been around since the ’90s, they’ve really taken off as foodservice operators adapted to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using them is easier than ever, helping foster their ready acceptance by the dining public.
Many newer smartphones have built-in QR code viewers, so no special app is needed. A patron can simply open their phone’s photo app, focus on the QR code, and then follow the pop-up link to the restaurant’s menu. This makes ordering faster and minimizes contact with the server.
The right website platform can take QR codes to the next level with contactless ordering and payment system integration. Customers can order and even pay the bill from their phone to have their meal delivered to their table (or for takeout and delivery), for the ultimate in convenience and contactless dining.
“Guests can easily access the restaurant’s ordering menu via the QR code and order directly from the menu. This reduces short-term labour costs and increases table turnover with faster, more efficient ordering.”Amina Gilani, Co-Founder and COO of Sociavore
QR codes also benefit restaurant operations, as Gilani explains: “Sociavore’s contactless dining feature streamlines the restaurant’s service by sending orders directly from the guest’s phone to the kitchen. Guests can easily access the restaurant’s ordering menu via the QR code and order directly from the menu. This reduces short-term labour costs and increases table turnover with faster, more efficient ordering.” She says, for instance, that this feature has powered the largest patios in Toronto (the Distillery District and RendezViews) as well as many independent restaurants.
Letting your community know about these safety enhancements may encourage the hesitant to return to in-person dining more quickly. It’s also helpful in retaining and attracting staff, a major industry concern.
Bye-bye Paper Menus?
The pandemic has certainly accelerated the demise of the formal printed menu. Many restaurants switched to single-use menus for safety reasons before moving to QR codes. But it may be premature to declare paper menus as passé as paper letters.
Not everyone has a smartphone. Some don’t have data and need your WiFi to use QR codes. Sometimes people simply forget their phone. Even the most tech-advanced restaurant should have some single-use paper menus available as a contingency.
Tips for the Digital Menu Age
- Embrace digital design — “Let your menu reflect your brand!” Gilani says. “Don’t be afraid to switch it up and create new menus for special events or holidays. Also, be sure to include a clear, well-lit photograph of each menu item — you’ll notice a significant increase in online sales and basket size.”
- Help customers become tech savvy — Some customers need to get comfortable with menu technology. Tactfully show them the ropes. Demonstrate that using QR codes is as easy as opening their phone app, and show them how to find more details about menu items. Once they’ve got the hang of how simple it is to use a tabletop QR code, they’ll be converts.
- Be generous with those QR codes — Consider placing several QR code stickers on each table. After all, patrons clamouring to click through to your digital menu won’t want to queue up for their chance!
About the Author
Marlene Cornelis is a writer and editor based in London, Ontario, where she operates her business Veranda Editorial. She’s also the creative spirit and recipe developer behind the food blog Urban Cottage Life. Much of Marlene’s work centres around the food world.