Six Steps to Creating an Effective Menu That Sells

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Six Steps to Creating an Effective Menu That Sells

By Diane Chiasson, Chiasson Consultants Inc.

Having worked as a restaurant and retail consultant for the past 25 years for hundreds of restaurants, convenient and grocery stores, as well as all other types of foodservice operations, I can confidently tell you that a well-written and well-designed menu is your most powerful merchandising and marketing tool.

C-stores have evolved over the years from a place to buy milk and gas, to a one-stop shop that includes grabbing breakfast, a snack, lunch or dinner. So developing a proper menu for your operation is crucial. Here are my six key steps to creating a menu that will get your customers to buy what you want them to buy.

1. Use colors to enhance your menu

The colors you select for both your printed menus and menu boards should be warm and inviting, and should match the branding of your operation. They should also complement your interior design, quality of food and price range. Use a maximum of three colors, and make sure the colors give enough contrast so your menu stands out. Your menu boards need to be properly lit as well.

Some c-stores might also benefit from color-coding, as customers are usually in a hurry, and it would help them make quick decisions. More than any other aspect of the menu, color has a definite psychological purpose that not only stimulates the appetite, but calls attention to particular foods. For example, a green background sells fresh soups and salads, a yellow background sells breakfast items, and a red background sells desserts.

2. Create easy-to-read menus

Legibility is the top priority in designing your menu. Stick to simple, basic fonts like Arial, Helvetica and Times New Roman with a minimum font size of 12 points for the printed version. As the average age of the population increases, larger, simple fonts are recommended. People buy more if they can easily read the choices.

The menu should be written mostly in lower-case, as words written in all capital letters are difficult to read. You can attract the customer's eye by increasing the sizes of the words and prices of your most profitable items. Use no more than three distinct font styles and incorporate the three colors you chose to reflect your store brand. Borders and shaded boxes are also useful tools to draw attention to a particular item.

3. Use icons

Healthy food options are now found in every type of foodservice operation for today's health-conscious society. Use icons to highlight your healthy food options. Choose one symbol to indicate all your vegetarian options and another symbol to indicate low-fat items.

4. Make it user-friendly

Ensure that your menu is user-friendly. If you offer too many items and choices, you end up confusing your customers. The average amount of time for a consumer to walk in, make a purchase and depart a convenience store is between three and four minutes. Meal combinations are also a good way of both up-selling extra items and helping your customers make quick decisions.

You can also speed up the service process by offering items that have all the condiments and garnishes already included. For example, your turkey sandwich always comes on a 12-grain roll with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise, instead of allowing your customer to choose which type of bread, condiment and garnish he wants on his sandwich, State the exact items of the sandwich in the menu so customers know what they are getting.

5. Include product origins in menu descriptions

Americans are becoming more interested about where their food comes from and how it's grown. Putting this information in the menu description is a major trend in menu writing today in restaurants, and should also be applied to c-stores. For example, a menu description for a hot dog could read, "Organic, nitrate-free, all-natural beef sausage from XYZ Farms on a seven-grain roll from ABC Bakery."

6. Train your staff

A good menu is most effective when combined with well-trained and knowledgeable staff. Make sure your staff knows your menu inside and out, and gets the opportunity to taste everything on the menu so that they can make recommendations to undecided customers. Your staff should also be able to answer any possible question a customer might have about the menu.

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, president of Toronto-based Chiasson Consultants Inc., is a foodservice and retail merchandising and marketing specialist who has worked with independent restaurants, major hotel and restaurant chains, corporate cafeterias, coffee bars, casinos, clubs, hospitals, colleges and universities, in addition to supermarkets, convenience stores, specialty food and gift stores for the past 20 years. You can call her at (416) 926-1338 or (888) 926-6655, fax her at (416) 921-6994, contact her via e-mail at [email protected] or visit her web site at