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Delivering the Digital Restaurant: Why you should kill your giant menu

Written by Publishing Team

When guests search for your food online, a digital menu that tries to be all things for all people is likely to be less effective than one that is designed from a digital perspective first.

Gordon Ramsay, the famous Michelin-starred chef and TV celebrity known for his “Hell’s Kitchen,” is also someone who believes in simplicity. While visiting Lyon’s Restaurant in Montclair, New Jersey, it was apparent how the complexity of the menu created challenges for the restaurant’s guests and the team members they serve. This was a business that only operated in a local context! In today’s multi-channel and digitally oriented restaurant business model, it has never been more convenient for simplicity to be front and center in menu design.

At a recent OnTrends concept conference in Tampa, Florida, Targetable CEO Andrew Nash told the audience, “If TGI Friday’s or a restaurant like them split their menu into 10 separate listings for virtual brands, their volume outside of the premises would probably be higher than keep it together.” We agree and believe that big menus have lost their relevance in today’s restaurant economy. Let’s explore the reasons.

Large lists exhaust searching in a time- and inattentive society. Many guests will interact with restaurants for the first time through a third-party marketplace such as DoorDash or UberEats. A large online list can be divided into categories, but the more scrolling and pressing buttons to search a list, the more friction the user will experience. When the hand-held foraging device is handed around the hungry family to pick dinner, the slow and laborious ordering process will speed up selection, limit addition possibilities and prolong hunger and, as a consequence, hunger. The name of the restaurant, simple and easy-to-navigate menu and presentation will help the guest to find the food he wants faster.

Digital brand names for restaurants are important for promoting third-party search optimization. Digital platforms can certainly help focus a user’s review of menus by reminding consumers what they ordered last time, or by highlighting the most popular dishes. But the digital interface struggles to represent the variety of options available on the small smartphone screen.

When a consumer clicks on a restaurant’s name for the first time, they have no idea whether that restaurant has 20 or 120 items on their menu. They don’t know how long it will take to choose their meal, and if it becomes too daunting, they may choose another restaurant. It’s just a few clicks away, after all. It is much easier to change restaurants digitally than it is for local settings. This is exactly why Targetable’s Nash recommends several default brands with small menus rather than one brand with a large menu. These virtual brands also keep the name of the restaurant near the menu items in it.

Virtual brands can be very clear about what they stand for and their basic menu can easily be represented by a set of items. Side items, toppings, and drinks can be consistent across all restaurant-supported menus.

Large lists cause operational complexity in a multichannel ranking environment. “Less is more” is a phrase familiar to all of us; It was made famous by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, an architect trying to make buildings simpler. So why do restaurateurs make their menus so complicated? And what does this mean for the cooks who have to constantly train, learn, and execute across a large roster during the worst job crisis in a generation? Nothing but difficulty – and in more cases, an inferior experience for all involved.

Big listings soften brand identities. Guests want a clear understanding of the restaurant’s authentic brand story and what this restaurant has to offer. Consumers are demanding that the quality of ingredients be improved, and that those ingredients be sourced in a way that matches what is important to them – whether it’s value, agricultural practices, sourcing location, or clean labels. Guests want restaurants to tell them who they are and why they’re serving what they’re serving — not just information on calories or allergens. This information is essential to voice the identity of the restaurant, and can be achieved through its menu, but only if the menu is focused.

Marketers often talk about the importance of “white space” – the gaps on a poster, website, or bulletin board that are important to ensure key messages are highlighted. The same is true of the menu. If the list is full of ink – or dotted sentences in the digital world – the guest’s attention and engagement is more likely to be lost. In a context outside of the workplace, this has never been more important. Encouraging guests to return through the first party channel is an important step towards the profitability of the outside channel. Guests who remember the platform they ordered from but not the restaurant that fulfilled their order will never convert their loyalty to a first-party ordering experience.

Inflation and labor shortages are forcing restaurants to reduce the size of their menus. Labor shortages and supply chain challenges have forced restaurants to scale back their menus, and many are finding concentrated menus an easier and more profitable way to operate.

Coffee futures are up more than 82%, with wheat up 26% and sugar 24% at the time of writing. Reducing waste and taking advantage of the flexibility of digital menus will help restaurants adapt their menus to this challenging environment. Reducing the amount of essential items a guest can then allocate can help restaurants manage them. It also supports efforts to increase cost efficiency through the restaurant’s supply chain – with a focus on greater orders of fewer ingredients.

With the emergence of external channels, virtual brands and an informed and wanted customer base, restaurants must rethink their menu design strategy. Reducing the basic menu clears the restaurant’s identity, simplifies operations and reduces costs. Personalization and personalization remain a central theme and provide the variety that guests seek. For those restaurants ready to offer more than just a basic menu, virtual brands can support reach and frequency. Restaurants can design a brand themselves by figuring out where existing ingredients fit well together or working with virtual brand developers who can help make the right choices. The digital list is now only a few inches long – and what’s in that list should have a greater and better effect than the pure size of the items alone.

Author’s biography

Meredith Sandland and Karl Orsborn are co-authors ofIntroducing the digital restaurant: your roadmap for the future of food. After spending more than 20 years in corporate and food retail strategy, Meredith and Karl conclude that food in America is changing. They quit their corporate jobs in search of innovation that would transform the restaurant industry. Ghost kitchens, virtual brands, digital marketing, and an economy Freelance work and simple operations at the heart of the future you imagine.For more information visit or email [email protected]

About the author

Publishing Team