The Prose of the Menu
It is often easy to overlook the lowly menu. After all, it is just a couple sheets of paper, that tell the customer what to order. Sometimes the contents of the menu will change on a regular basis, and so if you spend too much time on it you are perhaps wasting time that could better be spent elsewhere. Or are you?
In most cases, the menu placed in front of a customer is the only chance that the owners of the establishment have to communicate what their product is, and why it is better then the joint down the street. The form, layout, content, and perhaps even the character of the menu will provide the customer with insight into the very heart of the restaurant or bar. This means that as much time and energy should be put into the construction of the menu, as does with the selection of the ingredients that are used in the food, cocktails, and ambiance of the restaurant itself.
The Writeup The average customer is generally pretty clueless when it comes to cocktails, and unfortunately the average bartender sometimes isn't much better. The attention to detail that goes into the creation of a cocktail menu provides the potential customer with one of their first glimpses as to how good of a drink you will be able to make for them.
In its crudest sense, a menu can be simply an itemized listing, with prices. In one sense, not much different from a phone book, and I’ve seen restaurant and cocktail menus which are about that exciting. Such a purely utilitarian menu clearly isn’t doing anything to actually help sell a product, and I would be wary about any establishment that held their product in such low regard.
The art of menu design and preparation is to get it to work for you, providing a mechanism that helps the customer really understand the quality and attention to detail that your unique establishment provides them.
Consider a restaurant menu that might simply list:
Eggs Benedict.................... $12.95
Besides perhaps the price, is there anything there that indicates this is any different then what they might get at some truck-stop cafe? If this was on your menu, don’t you owe it to both your customers, as well as yourself, to provide the customer with information that lets them understand why you feel your Eggs Benedict are worth having?
Likewise, does it make any more sense to simply list:
When that is what I see on a menu, I can only assume that they make their margaritas with the cheapest possible tequila, and use some horrid commercial margarita mix. No thanks, I think I’ll pass. Wouldn’t it be more appealing to see something like:
Classic Margarita................. $10.95
Made from scratch using the best quality ingredients. Premium tequila, Cointreau, and freshly squeezed lime juice, poured over crushed ice in the classic style. If you ask for it with a salted rim, we will use our own special margarita salt, which includes just the right amount of lime essence to bring out the best flavors of this classic drink.
Now doesn’t that sound a little more appealing? Don’t you think the customer might actually pay a little more attention to this drink then they would otherwise? Perhaps it isn't necessary to be quite as verbose as I illustrate above, but the menu listing should help show the pride with which you will prepare this drink for them.
Spending the time and energy to properly describe the drinks you want to highlight on your menu will go a long way in communicating with your customer why they want to spend time, and money at your establishment. Granted, it takes more room to give an adequate description of a cocktail then just listing its name and price, but with thousands of possible drinks to list you really weren't intending on listing all of them were you?
This only scratches the surface of the menu and the role it plays in the mind of the customer. Try to spend a little time thinking about what you think is an important ingredient in a menu. The next time you find yourself in a restaurant or bar, take a closer look at the menu and think about what you might change if you were writing up their menu.