Menu Focus

Focus on menu marketing: read the small print...

By Daniel Woolfson

- Last updated on GMT

Focus on menu marketing: read the small print...

Related tags Menu Restaurant

Daniel Woolfson looks at the ways different operators are marketing their menus and implementing some serious innovation to drive profits

Seasonality sells

“Laminated and picture menus are fast disappearing, except in some chains,” says Inn Places managing director David Hancock. “To the discerning pub diner they clearly indicate a little-changing menu and perhaps food that is not prepared fresh on the premises.

“Well-designed and branded seasonally/monthly changing menus with interesting fonts and the pub logo work well.”

Hancock also implores licensees to meticulously replace stained and damaged menus with fresh ones as often as necessary.

He recommends operators keep menus simple, avoiding over-blown descriptions of each dish and keeping supplier mentions to a minimum.

But, he says: “If you have room on the menu, do shout about your key ‘local’ farm/artisan suppliers and whether you use home-grown produce or home-reared meats.

“If you barter with local allotment holders and you use Reg’s rhubarb, then mention Reg by name. He will be proud, it will be the talk of the bar and it stimulates a positive community spirit.”

Keep your web presence in check

Elizabeth Carter, editor of the Good Food Guide​, says the way a menu is presented online can make a big difference in how customers — and critics — feel about a venue before they visit.

“Sample menus online are lazy,” she says. “Bothering to keep up to date and post the latest menu makes a big difference in how I view a place — it makes it look sharper, like [the operators] care.

“Nor do I think much of statements on the website about the food philosophy and then find only sample food dishes, or worst of all no menu. I think some places forget they are supposed to be attracting the general public.

“I’ve also seen a worrying trend recently of posting menus online without prices,” she says. “I hope that doesn’t spread.”

Build awareness of menu promotions

Developing a strong identity doesn’t just mean having a stand-out menu. Adding a personal touch to tableware and hygiene products can put you a cut above the rest and raise awareness of lucrative menu promotions, according to Rebecca Blake, senior product manager at SCA Hygiene Products.

“Custom-print napkins are a great way to add a personal touch for your customers to your pub dining space, simply by adding your logo, perhaps a memorable slogan or even a promotional offer,” she says.

“We conducted extensive research among napkin users which revealed 75% of customers notice the custom print on the napkins, while 70% can recall the message at a later date — whereas on napkin dispensers, a third of people noticed the promotional message and one in 10 took up the offer.”

She adds: “The customisation of napkins has become a huge trend in the past year, as more and more licensees look for creative ways to remain front-of-mind with customers while differentiating their pub food offering from the competition.”

Go high-tech

At free-of-tie lease the Sir Roger Tichborne, in Billingshurst, West Sussex, owner Tony Frith took advantage of technology to turn ordering from the menu into an interactive experience.

Three touchscreens adorn the pub. One displays current allergen information for each of the menu’s dishes, which can be updated in real time by the staff — in line with current EU allergen regulations.

The other two have been programmed to resemble traditional chalk board menus and allow customers to scroll through available dishes and specials, exploring their ingredients.

“Every time we upload a special meal, all the allergen information updates on the other screen as well,” says Frith. “From a staff training point of view, it’s very good. Our staff have to learn what all the allergens are and update the screens — they’ve got to know because a dish won’t go on without that information.”

Frith says the boards have also helped business as a marketing tool and has installed them in his second site, the Barley Mow, near Chichester.

“We get a lot of comments on TripAdvisor about the boards — people really like them,” he says.

“Another bonus is that if we have anything organised such as special evenings or events we can display them on the boards as well.”

Expert insight

“Some pubs decide on the food they want to put on the menu, decide on the quality they want that food to be and then set the menu prices to achieve the GP they want, with scant regard for the disposable spend of their target clientele,” says Ali Carter, catering consultant and managing director of CaterCost.

“Others list all the dishes they want on their menu, look around at the competition to see what they sell their similar or comparable dishes for and either copy or go a little bit cheaper.

“Focusing too much on the food without considering your target customer in the area will be disastrous,” she says. “You may think Gloucester Old Spot dry-cured ham sandwich on organic grain bread with Duchy of Cornwall meadow-farmed butter, selected rocket leaves with imported mustard commands the hefty £10.99 price tag you need to make 65% GP.

“But, the harsh fact is that if your target customer only has £4 to spend on lunch, they will probably pick up a ham sarnie from the local garage.”

For Carter, copying the competition is equally risky because you can have no idea if your competitors — that you are trying to undercut — are actually making a profit.

“You could be copying the business strategy of a business that is about to go bust,” she says. “Copying is crazy because you simply don’t know what price they buy their ingredients for.”

Thinking about price points is equally as important as thinking about the dishes themselves, she says. “By considering the entry price and top-end price then splashing lots of other price points in between gives the opportunity for customers to spend low or high within their price bracket.”

Ali Carter’s book Eat Your Competition for Lunch: 27 Golden Rules for Running a Successful and Profitable Food Business ​is available in paperback and online.

Telling a story 

A perfect menu should tell a story that reflects the history of the venue, according to consultant chef Damian Wawrzyniak, who previously worked at former World’s 50 Best Restaurants winner Noma, in Copenhagen.

“I create a story — every single dish needs to be connected together,” he says. “From the beginning to the finish, you need to see how the ingredients are connected — going from the farm to the land to the sea to the mountains, to different countries. You’re dining and experiencing something more than just food.”

Wawrzyniak recently worked on the menu for St John’s Wood gastropub the Crocker’s Folly.

“Every single place and every single menu is different,” he says. “[Crocker’s Folly], which I’m working on now is an old building, built in 1897. There is a history of finding bones in there and someone apparently committed suicide.

“The first dish we created was marrow bone filled with marrow butter, sourdough — because it’s traditional, and toast. It was attached to the history of the building.”

He believes that when designing a menu, considering the interior design of the venue is paramount.

“If you go to a boutique place with chic chandeliers, the food will be delicate,” he says. “You’re not going to have rack of lamb or rib-eye steak on the bone. But when you go to a more erratic, warehouse-style place, you can have a massive steak.”

Stand-out operators
  • The Brandling Villa, in South Gosforth, Newcas tle upon Tyne: the wording used to advertise the site’s food offer takes the vernacular route — food and drink are referred to colloquially as “scran” and “booze”. The pub’s menu features dishes such as super-Reuben fritters of joy with honey, Dijon and horseradish dipper, the “meatless foursome” and the “sausage odyssey”.
  • The Bridge Tavern, in Newcastle: the site offers a selections of sharing planks, including the meat plank with pressed duck and pistachio terrine, grilled sausages, pig’s head croquettes, chicken liver pâté, sourdough toast and pickles, the fish plank with breaded monkfish cheeks, hot smoked salmon, potted crab, soused mackerel, sourdough toast, pickles and tartare sauce and the slider plank, which features half a dozen mini beef and pulled pork burgers.
  • The Anchor, in Walberswick, Suffolk: owner Mark Dorber personally matches beers and wines to each item on the menu. Examples include Mersea oysters with shallot and sherry vinaigrette with Orvale Biére Trappiste, beer-battered cod and chips with mushy peas and jalapeño tartare sauce matched with Adnams Ghost Ship and veal schnitzel with mew potatoes and mustard cream sauce matched with Westmalle Dubbel.
  • The Five Bells Inn, in Brabourne, Kent: this site is owned by John Rogers, who previously designed many of the M&B brand interiors and his wife Alison. Specials are handwritten on wall-hung brown paper. Hancock says John’s talent “oozes through the interior”. Sample dishes include duck salad with sherry vinaigrette, bonfire pizzas, and ‘Flock Chops’ to share, marinated in thyme, garlic and lemon and char-grilled.

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