2021 Guide to Restaurant Menu Management
Are you ready for menu management in a hybrid digital and print world?
Menu management transformed dramatically in 2020 and the number of menu types and presentations restaurants now require will likely never return to pre-pandemic times. Closed dining rooms drove the need for easier pickup and carryout menus and online ordering workflows. Menu offerings have been streamlined and are becoming order channel specific to ensure quality. Digital and QR code digital contactless menus, single use or disposable menus and limited use laminated menus all have a place at the table these days.
Menu management is simple in theory: Ensure all of your menu items, menu descriptions, item pricing, nutrition and allergen information, and other item variables are accurate and aligned across all brand ordering channels and POS. For those working in restaurant operations and on menu management and culinary teams, you know full well that this is no simple task. Frequent menu updates and revisions, the rotation of seasonal items, new menu item introductions and LTOs, item variations by region or franchisee, revising nutrition information and location specific pricing all contribute to a large data collection process that is always in flux.
To understand how your restaurant is impacted by efficient menu management software, let’s take a look at your menu data and where it needs to go in this new world.
In today’s marketplace every menu, every menu item, menu description, price, nutrition fact and absolutely every variation and modification must be viewed as valuable data that helps drive traffic and sales. This may feel extremely intimidating if you do not currently utilize a data collection process and menu management tool that ensures menu content, recipe management, nutrition and allergen facts, and other modifiers are accurately tracked, utilized and made available for analysis. Organized menu data will assist you in streamlining the menu management process and workflows and making it less intimidating to adopt additional revenue streams. For example, historical menu data allows you to see back in time, to better understand food item selections, pricing decisions and their impact on traffic, product mix and check average. Data empowers your operators, partners and/or franchisees to better understand pricing and menu offerings from a wholistic perspective across many locations. Data is the key to unlocking and understanding your menu from a macro and micro level.
Proofed and approved menu data can be shared and published across your brand website, digital menu boards and kiosks, online ordering and app channels, third-party delivery and native delivery systems, contactless carryout and dine in menus as well as print menus and menu board of all types. Accuracy and customization across menu types enhances the guest experience while providing analytic insights for finance, operations, and franchise consulting teams.
As restaurant brands grow and evolve so do the methods needed for capturing all food and beverage menu differences, pricing tiers, core and optional menu items, day part and week part specials, regional selections and differences by ordering channel. This large and comprehensive need often becomes increasingly difficult to manage in spreadsheets and artwork files. Cracks in the process begin to appear as spreadsheets are shared, emailed around for updates, and renamed in ways that don’t capture dates and times. This often leads to misunderstandings and mistakes. Tracking current versions is difficult and it’s hard to spot unapproved changes. The last thing you want to hear is that a location has incorrect content, pricing or availability on any menu.
Menu management software at its most basic function should allow all food and beverage content, print artwork, and digital menu presentations to be managed and published from a single source. The UI/UX should be easy and intuitive and enable individual restaurant managers, franchisees or owner/operators to login and make decisions and selections about their menu. Content options and controls must meet all legal and brand positioning needs. Permission based accesses and hierarchies of content management and approvals should be inherent within the tool. Content across menu types and presentations should be linked as needed so that changes can be made once and be reflected on other menus as needed. Local beverage programs should be easily managed alongside national programs. Test menu items and new menu presentations must be handled with ease and accuracy.
As menu decisions are being made, a single source of menu data must be simultaneously created and organized so that at the end of the menu selection or revision process, the restaurant brand will have a complete picture of the menu for each location. Sophisticated menu management software will automatically render in real time an artwork rich display of the print menu design that includes the menu selections. Digital menu displays should be available by channel. These rendered proofs allow approvals of the menu for print or digital publishing without having to manually make changes in location’s artwork file. Manual changes can lead to unnecessary errors that are more easily avoided when the data does not have to be manually transcribed for each destination. Managing the menu from a single source of truth ensures the data is locked down.
Additionally, throughout the menu selection process menu management systems allow you to create rules and guidelines that cannot be skirted or broken. For example, required price ranges or core item inclusion can be enforced. Optional items can be customized based on region or even individual locations. These customizable features allow you to save time when finalizing the menu. It prevents corporate restaurant chains from having to reign in franchisees after they have already priced their menu, creating less tension and promoting a smooth menu ordering experience between corporate and franchisees.
Menu management software can specialize in different areas of the menu. Several restaurant brands manage their beer, wine and liquor in a menu management system that is designed to inventory these beverage offerings. These beverage management systems ensure the software has data points for different pours or glasses available, as well as capabilities to manage vintages for liquor or wine. If you are a fine dining restaurant with thousands of wines available, it may make sense to find a menu management system that also specializes in beverage management. This way, you can utilize one menu management tool to store your beverage and food menu data.
Now that you have established a single source of truth in a menu management system there is the ability to repurpose menu data downstream of the printed menu. Most of the menu and artwork selections are made with the initial print output in mind. This is due to the longer lead times printing requires before the finished menu is printed, shipped and placed on a dining table. However, it is necessary to keep in mind at the variety of digital endpoints where this data can be repurposed.
For example, many franchised restaurant chains have profiles with online listings such as Google My Business, Yelp, or UnTappd where their menus are displayed. Often this menu can fall out of sync with the current in-store printed menu, frustrating consumers who call in an order only to find what they were hoping to order is not available. The restaurant brand knows they have outdated menus online, but simply do not have the resources available to painstakingly update hundreds of locations menus one by one just for a single online listing site. To save time and ensure accuracy, this is where a restaurant brand relies on menu management systems to power the transfer of menu selections by location to update all of their online listings. The act of updating multiple online sites with menu data is known as digital menu publishing.
Additionally, sourcing all of your menu items, pricing, and other modifiers from a single menu management solution will allow you to pull reports that can be formatted to upload in a point of sale (POS) system. This can streamline the process for updating a POS system, saving a restaurant owner from the time-consuming effort to manually update the point of sale. In addition to updating POS systems, it is also possible to format reports that streamline the upload process for third party delivery systems.
Digital menu publishing takes the initial print menu selections, pricing, etc. and repurposes the data downstream to several commercial facing or internal systems in an automated fashion. This removes days of work for team members that traditionally copy and pasted menus from the print files to online listings or the in-restaurant digital menu. Also, it ensures accuracy because all of the data is delivered from a single source of truth. This data may be accessed in the form of an API that creates several opportunities for sharing data with your restaurant systems.
If you conclude that publishing menu data to third party online sources, such as Yelp or the brand website, is not worth the cost and resources required to maintain, it is worth considering the effects on search engine optimization (SEO) for your brand. By definition not publishing menus in any regard would simplify the process of your campaign rollout, it would however also limit the visibility of your menu to consumers online.
Whether you operate a quick service restaurant or casual dining restaurant chain, there is widespread consensus that your brand’s overall visibility online is largely impacted by the menu and brand specific content it publishes online. For example, if you would like for people searching Google for “hot wings near me” to find your restaurant, you must create an association online with your brand on hot wings. This is often achieved through adding content for “hot wings” on your website and online listings. Therefore, adding location specific pages with their individual menus on your website, or third party listings such as Google My Business, is a strategic move that could enhance your SEO and online visibility to consumers with regards to the food items you serve.
COVID-19 challenges operators with managing multiple forms of the menu at a single time. With the fast adoption of QR code contactless menus in combination with the necessary use of disposable menus, and increased demand in takeout or to-go menus, there has never been more forms of the menu available to a consumer. Managing the menu content across these mediums exhausts marketers in an already strained operating environment.
Menu management software reduces complexity for restaurant operators when the number of menu types increase, especially when versioning is extensive between locations and types of menus. The main menu is established in a menu management system as the primary menu, while also creating “child products” that branch off of the main menu such as digital menus, to go menus and take-out menus. This allows variance in offerings, pricing, modifiers, descriptions and even item names across all of your menu types. However, it is all maintained and managed with a systematic, data-driven approach, reducing confusion and time-consuming processes such as maintaining spreadsheets passed throughout the organization.
Menu management systems also allow for customizations to occur between the print and QR code powered digital menus. For example, on the print menu you may be limited to artwork for only a few featured food or drink items. This is due to the limited real estate on paper menus. With a digital menu it is possible to display images for every single item because space is no longer limited. A menu management system has the capability to power both menus from its single source of menu data, but also modify images or even content for the desired output. While a digital menu can afford to display more photos, it can also handle longer menu item descriptions. With a menu versioning system in place to keep track of the digital and print versions, restaurant owners have more time to make marketing decisions.
Finding the right menu management solution will likely depend on the restaurant owner or operator goals. Each menu solution is different in their approach to improving restaurant management with varying capabilities in publishing content downstream. Begin the search by looking inward at inefficiencies requiring large amounts of manual data organization or manual data transfer. If you have trouble locating the exact price of a menu item for a particular location in the last campaign, this may be a good sign that a menu management solution will have a positive impact on your restaurant business.