In our consistent attempts to assist mobile food vendors across the country, Mobile Cuisine Magazine has produced a number of articles aimed at both new and existing vendors in areas that are most likely to effect the operation of their business. Today we have dedicated our writing to one such area, menu building.
A good menu design is one of the ultimate goals to any mobile food vendor’s marketing plan. If done properly, it will expresses your eatery’s personality, focus your overall operations, promote you businesses profitability, establish your budget and keep your brand fresh in your customer’s mind.
What is the goal of a well-crafted menu?
Your menu is your primary means of businesses representation: It says exactly who you are and what you hope to convey personality-wise. It also should create enough of an impression so that it stays with your client long after they have ordered from it. In addition, it must convey your brand in a manner that makes diners excited to visit, want to come back and recommend it to family and friends.
What steps should you take before designing your food truck menu?
As with most creative endeavors, proper results can’t be achieved without sufficient research. In the case of designing the right menu for you, that means collecting data from various sources. Examine your own numbers first, such as your food truck’s prospective financial and marketing numbers and its sales mix. Then look at your competitors: Examine their Web sites, menus and marketing efforts and try to see where they went right and how you could compete successfully with those traits.
After that, consider your typical locations and how they relate to the customers you attract. Knowing all of this, ask yourself the following:
- What can my mobile restaurant menu offer that others in the area do not?
- What menu items do we have in common?
- How does our pricing match up?
- Does my menu offer more variety than theirs?
Determining these factors will help guide you towards designing the right menu for your food truck or cart.
How should you design your menu?
There are no rights or wrongs in mobile food vendor menu design. What works with some establishments will fail at others. However, as mentioned before, your menu should be an expression of your businesses personality. In designing it, think about how it will best represent your image and objectives. Are you classy and sophisticated? Fun-loving and wild? A small, simple menu can be used to enhance a truck’s impression of elegance or simplicity. A long, item intensive menu can emphasize your festive side. Once you determine personality you wish to achieve, you can easily begin crafting the look of your menu to match that.
How should you arrange items on the menu? Should you use merchandizing techniques to help?
Design your menu in a way that mimics the dining experience. Arrange items sequentially, with appetizers, salads and soups first, then entrees, then desserts. Place star items on boards that contain more visual flair than others, and set markers or images around featured items to further draw attention.
Merchandizing techniques will further help this agenda and create a menu by allowing you to easily spotlight specialty and signature items, introduce newer selections and invoke an appropriate sense of personality. In turn, the techniques also make these items easier for your clients to find and recognize.
Place your best selling items, or those you want to have the biggest draw, on the prime sweet spots of the menu board. These areas refer to the spots where the average customer brings his or her eyes to first, and thus receive one’s first attention. Also, if room on the board allows, arrange your menu in columns. One column can reflect a sense of sophistication and elegance, where two or more columns can bring forth a sense of playfulness, etc.
Highlight spotlight or signature items in a way that draws attention to them: Boxing selections off within your menu works well at this, as does adding colors, images, labels and logos.
Naming items specifically or creatively (ex. Rojo Chicken Salad), and using active descriptions of the ingredients in the dishes, makes the food sound more enticing and exotic for the customer.
What are some common mistakes in food truck menu design?
If your menu creates problems for your customers, they may become apprehensive and less likely to return. Common mistakes include: Menu print that is too small to read easily; menu boards that lack English translations for non-English words or phrases; menus without daily or weekly special insets; entrees that don’t look like their photos; and misalignment of brand and menu.
How should you price your menu?
Food truck diners are savvy, and often they’ll know how your items match up value-wise against your competition. In light of this, keep your more everyday items (dishes you can find anywhere, really) approximately $1 more or less than your competition. Many customers do not perceive such increments to be significant, especially with dishes above $5, so there is some leeway there. Likewise, items unique to your truck or cart can be a little higher but also should not exceed the other items excessively. Doing so will make the latter more enticing to diners, especially those who visit your establishment regularly.
Also, to get a better feel for the sense of value you are promoting, take a picture of each item on the menu in a way that mimics the actual presentation on the table. After doing so, ask yourself: Do the items look like they are worth the price you are charging? Could a change in presentation justify an increase in price? Is there consistency with the overall look or does there seem to be a wide range or inconsistency in the price versus its presentation? You’ll be amazed at what you discover when you look at the entire menu collectively through the customer’s eyes.
How often should you update your menu design?
To keep your menu fresh, relevant and profitable, you need to know how each item is performing and how it stacks up against your competition. Conduct an analysis of your menu every six to twelve months. During this evaluation, look at profitability analysis and competitive menu analysis and determine what works best and what isn’t working at all. Then make the proper adjustments so that your changes reflect your research.
Comparing your menu with that of your competitors also helps. It not only opens more doors towards pricing your menu, it offers you a solid foundation on how to measure your profits. Performing a cross analysis helps uncover strengths and weaknesses in your pricing plan, specifically in terms of the way your items are priced and presented. By doing this, you determine which items are most popular, which are most profitable, which need extra emphasis, and which need to removed or replaced.
We hope this article will help both new and existing mobile food operators maximize their businesses marketing plans by creating a menu that shows who you are and coveys this with your current and prospective customers. Outside of your truck’s wrap or your carts graphics, you menu is the first glance into your operation that a person on the street is going to have of your business. Do not squander this opportunity by putting up a menu that is hard to read or does not express the type of chef you are, or the food that you have created.