Sunday, March 9, 2008

Menu Layout: Best of Intentions

There's a lot of information around about menu design—they call it menu engineering—to drive sales of the items you want to sell and to generate the revenue that you need for your restaurant. I don't really worry about this in my menu design: I'm much more focused on conveying clearly to our customers what it is that we are offering.

We just went through an 8-week process—yes, it really does take that long to push out a new menu, but that's a subject for another article—of simplifying our lunch menu. And we ended up with a very nice and much improved menu, but also with some unintended consequences that are pretty funny in retrospect.

It all came to a head yesterday morning, when one of the cooks came into my office to apprise me of a seemingly hilarious situation: a guest was reading the menu out loud to her father and started telling him of "Ed's sandwich, that you can get with chicken or shrimp." What you're missing here is that Ed's is not a sandwich at all, but a pasta as you can see in the image above.

When I went to the server station to check in with the server, she mentioned a couple of other customers being surprised by being served a pasta instead of a sandwich. At this point, something clicked in my mind and I understood the issue: the vertical space that I left between categories apparently wasn't enough of a visual separator, especially with the category label centered vertically with all the items in the category.

The correction was straightforward: vertically align the category label with the first item in the category. To reinforce the bounds of the category, I inserted a vertical line with the end result as you see. The result: no more Ed's sandwiches with shrimp. Chalk this up to "Who knew?"

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