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Do we really still want printed menu?

Do we really still want printed menu?

Published a year ago

During COVID restrictions, many dine-in restaurants took a different approach to menu delivery for hygiene and operational reasons, opting for a digital alternative to the traditional printed menu. This shift has taken many different forms, each with varied levels of investment and user experience from online PDF menus, to fully integrated online ordering and payment systems. The usability of some of the more basically digitised options leave much to be desired, but as with any new system, fine-tuning will likely improve performance over time. As with a printed menu, the success of a great digital menu takes investment in time and resource to perfect.

Lots of restaurants have seen the benefits of switching to digital menu alternatives, both financially and operationally. So, it’s understandable that if this ‘temporary’ solution seems to be working well, restaurants would stick with it. My question is, has the seeming success of this stop-gap solution, eroded our understanding of the potential impact of a great printed menu? As we move away from a time with social restrictions, do we need to revisit what is important to our customers?

I recently conducted two very small surveys to gauge what stage the hospitality industry is at with regards to printed v’s digital menus and also, what consumer prefer.

  • 19% of 80 restaurant operators asked were still adopting a digital only approach to menu delivery. 16% were using printed menus as their only option and 65% were offering consumers both digital and printed menus options.
  • When 500 consumers were asked if they would prefer a printed menu when visiting a restaurant, 86% preferred to order from a printed menu, 22% would rather go digital.

With most operators quite rightly playing it safe by giving customer both options, the vast majority of customers will be opting for the printed version… but why?

When I talk about menu optimisation, I talk a lot about consumer experience. Yes, your fully optimised menu can help make profitable gains for your business, but so much of what makes a great menu, is the customer experience it delivers. It’s difficult to avoid the reality that a digitised version of your menu takes a little bit of soul away from your whole vibe, and it would appear your customers want it back. Much like COVID itself, some second-rate menu solutions are taking far too long to go away, and that’s not what your customers sighed up for!

The experience of dining out has a number of transactional elements, that contribute to our feeling of occasion and make us feel a bit swanky.

  • We arrive, either with a booking or without, and are taken to a table, specially selected just for us.
  • We are handed our menu, from which we can choose anything we like, what a treat!
  • We are then served everything we’ve ordered, even with the little tweaks we might have made, the chef doesn’t mind, I’m sure.
  • We decide when we want to pay and leave, then we evaluate our experience.

Of course, this is a simplification of the journey, but if you think about dining out from a customer perspective, removing, changing or devaluing any one of these transactional elements, takes away from the optimum experience and may leave us feeling short-changed.

There will of course be the odd customer who is more hygiene conscious, particularly now, and will therefore place a higher value on the germ-free digital version of the menu, but never underestimate the level of significance placed on a fully immersive dining out experience for many diners. If anything, our expectations for a special experience are at a higher level now than pre-pandemic, due to the prolonged period of isolation and the more recent period of reduced occasions.

There’s also the social interactive element of the menu to consider. I’m not sure I have ever sat across from a friend in a restaurant and not enquired as to what they will be ordering, finding it myself, reviewing other options and repeating this process a couple of times! This is made much more difficult when scrolling through menu items on a device.

Valuable engagement with restaurant team members is also often simpler for customers when reviewing a printed menu over a digital menu. Your diligent host will not want to point out their recommendations by touching your screen, scrolling through your phone and therefore rendering the whole need for a digital menu redundant with their germs now all over your device!

Not wanting to sound like the one-woman fan club for printed menus, there are so many occasions where a digital menu will contribute more positively to a customer experience than a printed one. In these instances, speed and convenience of a well-rounded digital journey will give customers an equal high due to the greater sense of innovation, participation and efficiency. There is something thrillingly cutting-edge about breezing in and out of a restaurant, with every transaction initiated and completed through the wonder of technology (apart from the bit where a human still needs to bring your meal, unless you’re at the legendary Robotazia, Milton Keynes, where Ella the droid waitress will bring your pizza to your table!)

Of course, understanding your customer profile plays a significant role in helping you decided in which direction to take your menu. Asking questions, doing your research and understating your offering will more often than not make that choice for you. Avoid guesswork, it could leave your customers feeling less than fabulous when they dine with you.

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