Building and optimising a digital menu for restaurants, pubs, and cafes

Digital Menus: what they are and how to build them 

digital menu

What is a digital menu?

A digital menu is any menu which is online. That includes a menu pdf added to a Wix site; the biggest subcategory of digital menus is order and pay systems, a type of mobile ordering menu which allows you to both place orders and pay. 

Frequently, it’s appropriate to access a digital menu via a QR code. You can find out how to create a free QR code menu and how to print QR codes.

How to choose between digital menu providers

Digital menus have become widespread following the UK’s mandatory table order rules, but we think they’re here to stay in the long-term. They boast various benefits for the hospitality industry – for instance, they boost customer spending, elevate the customer experience, and make business operations smoother.

If you’re looking to set up a digital menu for your restaurant, pub, or cafe, it’s important to choose an option that ticks these boxes:

  • It should be quick and easy for businesses to set up and update.
  • It should be simple and intuitive for customers to use.
  • It shouldn’t eat away at your profits.

We recommend trying out StoreKit Order & Pay – it can work for various types of venues in various scenarios, and you can set your menu up for free in as quickly as 15 minutes. You can take a look at our list of great table ordering apps as well.

You can also find out more about how a digital menu could work in your restaurant, pub or bar, cafe, hotel or B&B, or even your theatre.

How to build a digital menu

digital menu 3

How you build your digital menu can significantly impact your customer’s experience and their spending. Below, we’ll walk you through the process of building and optimising a digital menu. We’ll also explain what features you should look out for when choosing a digital menu for your business.

To build a digital menu with StoreKit Order & Pay, you’ll need to sign up to the software and then create a restaurant. At the end of that process, the software will invite you to add restaurant categories, items, descriptions and pictures. It takes ten minutes on average – you can also use this walkthrough if you get stuck. Good luck! 

Here’s some advice:

Create clear categories

People spend less than 2 minutes on average (a mere 109 seconds, to be exact) reading a menu. Organising items by category – like appetisers, mains, sides, and desserts – makes it easier for users to find what they want in this limited time frame. It’s particularly important to have a clear structure because devices can have limited screen space. A messy menu gets in the way of users browsing “Ugh, this menu is so annoying!” and frustrated customers and shorter dwell times mean less spending.

An untidy menu can also lose you customers in the long run. According to a study by Thanx, 70% of restaurant and retail customers never return to the same business. Customer loyalty is a fragile thing. If customers can’t find what they want, it’s likely they won’t return. A clear menu is important for boosting sales and keeping customers.

Smaller menus, more sales

As a part of making your menu clearer, consider trimming down the number of products you sell as well. 

Having lots of options might seem attractive. But a study by Columbia University shows that too much choice can actually be debilitating for consumers and stop them buying. This is especially problematic for menus, where browsing times tend to be short. Over-saturating a menu means users are going to use up most of that time browsing, not making choices. For instance, the LongHorm Steakhouse made its menu 30% smaller over time and saw a 3.8% increase in sales in a quarter.

A shorter menu is also more practical. It makes it easier to limit your food costs. It also lets chefs focus more on individual offeringsand the quality of your dishes will matter more to customers than the size of your menu.

Create upsell and add-on options

Food

Instead of having a longer menu, create upsell and add-on options to build variety into your menu. 

A digital menu can incorporate upsell options particularly well. A paper menu can’t necessarily suggest appropriate upsell options for each item – and customers won’t always read an entire menu to find add-ons themselves. A human waiter suggesting upsell options repeatedly would also feel awkward and obtrusive. But a digital menu can suggest upsell options very naturally, without it feeling pushy – “make wine glass larger for £1.50” or “add fries for £2.50”. 

This helps to break the menu and ordering process down. Customers make multiple small and manageable choices, rather than one big one. Wading through a large menu to choose what to order can be tasking, and making that decision might shut down the possibility of further ordering. But with a digital menu offering upsell options, customers only need to make a series of simple choices – “do I want a larger glass of wine?” or “do I want extra pesto with my pizza?” – and this can lead to bigger baskets.

Clear modifiers, allergens, and descriptions

Happy diners

But making upselling easier is about more than just driving extra sales. It gives customers a better idea of the available options. This can be particularly useful in cafes or fast-food restaurants, where customers might feel too rushed to fully take in all of the available options. For example, Taco Bell saw that customer spending was 20% higher for digital orders. The digital menu made it easier to highlight the side dishes and add-ons that were often forgotten.

Showing upsell options and add-ons gives customers more control over their dining experience. They can customise their meals to best suit their own preferences. This leads to happy, and increased, spending.

Pictures

Food picture

The hashtag #food alone appears in 250 million Instagram posts per month. In a digital world, we experience food through pictures – to the point where we fetishise food, or rather its visual appeal, as “food porn”. We ogle at pictures of cheese pulls and melted chocolate. We feast with our eyes.

Digital menus are no exception to this. Pictures in paper menus can be seen as tacky, but an online menu tolerates pictures – in fact, they demand them.

According to Deliveroo, images increase sales by 6.5% in online menus. Grubhub claims sales can increase up to 30% with photos in menus. Pictures drive more sales by making imagining a dish and translating that vision into desire easier. Photos can be particularly useful in helping customers visualise less familiar dishes. 

Make sure you use high-quality images. A study by Oxford University shows that diners are willing to pay a lot more for food that is visually appealing. A picture can make or break whether customers order an item and how much they will pay for it – so it’s important that they’re attractive, although they also need to be realistic and accurate.

You might choose to hire a professional photographer, especially if you own a fine dining restaurant. But, done well, phone photography can work too – check out our tips for taking better food photos for Instagram

Descriptions

Typing

Along with pictures, descriptions are another means of engaging with your customers and enticing them with your offerings.

Research from Cornell University suggests that descriptive menu labels boost sales by up to 27%. Avoid simply listing ingredient names. Instead, inspire users to order by describing flavours, textures, appearances, and aromas – “a melted chocolate centre with a hint of fiery chilli”, for instance. Appealing to customers’ senses invites them to imagine eating or drinking your products, encouraging ordering. Alternatively, you can also appeal to nostalgia – “grandma’s potato salad” – or geographical interest – “purée of locally-sourced parsnips”.

Tempting menu descriptions can also increase sales in the long-term, by encouraging customers to return to try other dishes.

Use language that reflects the character of your restaurant, cafe, or bar. Casual establishments might have a humorous and friendly tone of voice, whilst fine dining restaurants might use more formal language. Your descriptions are an opportunity to engage with your customers and build a connection. Establishing your venue’s character helps to distinguish your business from others, and positions you as a unique brand.

Remember though – as with menu size, longer descriptions aren’t always better. Avoid vague or overly decorative language and make sure you accurately describe your products. Lengthy and confusing descriptions can prevent sales – if customers don’t understand what something is, they’re less likely to order it. Clarity is key in helping customers to understand your offerings and boosting sales.

Pricing

Calculation

Understanding the exact costs of your food and drinks is crucial to deciding what prices to give your products. You should spend between 25% to 35% of the price of your item on food and drinks costs. An inventory management system can help you to monitor and manage these costs, so that your pricing stays profitable.

Other costs you need to calculate for are staff wages, overhead costs, and marketing costs. You’ll also need to take other factors into account, such as how unique or valuable customers perceive your business to be and what your competitors are charging.

But pricing isn’t just about calculating margins. It also plays a role in deciding how customers view your products and your business. The long-standing practice of ending prices with 99p encourages more spending, compared to prices rounded up to the nearest pound. Including more expensive items towards the top of the menu can also make the prices of other items seem more reasonable.

But for consumers, cheaper isn’t always better. Although 99p pricing can communicate value, it can negatively impact a customer’s perception of the quality of a meal. A study by Cornell University also found that paying more for a meal causes diners to judge it as being of higher quality. Cheaper prices can actually hurt customers’ perception of a restaurant and the meal they were served. Pricing can set the tone to your restaurant, cafe, or bar, so it’s important to make sure they align.

Promote your digital menu

Marketing

You’ve built a digital menu. Now, you can sit back and relax, as you watch the sales flow in.

Well – not quite. Just like buying exercise gear isn’t going to magically grow you that six-pack, once you set up your digital menu, you need to make sure that customers use it.

For customers to use your digital menu, it needs to be visible to them. Add links to your menu in your Facebook business information, your Instagram bio, and your website. You can check out our guides on marketing for Facebook and Instagram and marketing for Google too. If you’re using StoreKit Order & Pay, take a look at our advice on printing QR codes to make sure your customers can easily find your QR code.

When your online menu starts driving sales, you can see traffic and sales split out by sources in StoreKit Order & Pay’s marketing dashboard. This means you can see what marketing platform works best for you, so you know where to channel your time and resources for maximum effect.

What features should your online menu have?

features digital menu

No downloads, no account creations

Customers will usually choose the easiest way to order. That means avoiding app downloads and account creations. 

You might argue that apps and accounts can increase customer loyalty. But the reality is that most customers won’t want your app on their phone, and they won’t want to sign up. Customers could easily decide that it’s easier to order with staff, which ends up defeating the whole purpose of the digital menu.

Instead, we recommend a digital menu that customers can easily access through a QR code or URL, like StoreKit Order & Pay. As a progressive web app, it keeps the best parts of an app and a web product. It loads as quickly as an app and has push notifications. But like a web product, it’s available on any device that has internet access.

It looks like a swan, swims like a penguin, and quacks like a duck – can’t get much better than that.

Customisation

The interior and atmosphere of your pub, restaurant, or cafe are a part of your customers’ experience. A digital menu is no exception to this. 

Choose a digital menu that you can customise. For instance, it should let you tweak the colour scheme to match your venue. StoreKit Order & Pay also has a dark mode that you can use for nighttime venues and posher establishments.

You should also be able to add photos and descriptions of your menu items. They should help users to better visualise your food and drinks – and this can lead to more sales. Photos and descriptions can also express the ambience of your venue – from causal and friendly to chic and luxurious. 

Integration

Software integration is key to running your business smoothly and efficiently. 

At StoreKit, we believe in a “best of breed” approach to software. This means combining software that works best for the different parts of your business, like inventory management, accounting, or staff management. Your online menu should be able to communicate and share data with your other software.

This can save you the effort of manually inputting this data again and again, so you can use that time and energy elsewhere. It also makes it easier to get a fuller view of how your business is doing.

StoreKit Order & Pay can be integrated with over 30 EPOS systems – so take a look.

A marketing dashboard

Marketing is an important part of setting up a successful online menu. Choose a digital menu that lets you track how your menu is performing on individual platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or your website.

StoreKit Order & Pay has a marketing dashboard that splits traffic and sales out by source. If you see some sources driving a lot of sales for your business, it’s a good sign of where you can use your time and resources with maximum effect.

You might also consider running paid ads in these more successful platforms. StoreKit Order & Pay can be integrated with the Facebook pixel and Google Tag Manager. This means that the digital menu can be a part of your paid marketing strategy for Facebook, Instagram, and Google. You’ll be able to track users’ actions within the digital menu. This will let you target the right audience with your ads and measure their impact.

If you’re seeing significantly fewer sales than visitors, your menu might not be inviting orders. Take a look at our advice above and test updating your menu. 

Menu engineering

“Menu engineering” is the practice of structuring menus in a way that encourages spending. Taking menus online makes understanding customers behaviours much easier. 

Currently (December 2020), StoreKit Order & Pay already involves menu engineering. We’re using the data we’ve been gathering to optimise our menu design in a way that helps to drive you more sales.

The hope is for this to become even more sophisticated in the coming years. We’ll keep you updated on progress.

 Get started with Order and Pay