A menu is doing more work than you might think. It’s got to sell, true, but it’s representing your brand too. Diners discuss them, point things out to one another. And if you’ve ever been left waiting for a friend in a restaurant, you’ll know just how much attention a menu can get. So how do you get your menu right?
If you’ve got a cosy restaurant by the seaside, don’t write your menu like a fancy French restaurant in Mayfair. Make sure the tone of what you write fits with the tone of your brand.
When we rewrote the menu for The Real Greek, we talked about their business model before we tasted a thing. So think about: how many people order three courses? What do you make great money on but not sell much of? Do people know how many sharing dishes to get? Then write your menu to match.
Find the interest
When we wrote the Zizzi menu, we went through every item and asked the (patient) chefs ridiculous numbers of questions. Gather as much detail as you can and then decide what's going to interest your diners most.
It could be:
- a fact – ‘we slow roast our pork belly for exactly six hours and 27 minutes’
- an opinion – ‘we chose to work with this vineyard because they’re every bit as fastidious as we are when it comes to wine’
- a story – ‘our chefs have a combined experience of 97 years, a love of all things veggie and a worrying obsession with giant jenga, which we have in the garden’
- a metaphor – ‘this pizza resembles a cooked kid’s painting, the way we pile on the toppings’
Use unusual terms and words
Try using some unexpected words such as 'burly chunks of mozzarella', or 'Rough-edged spaghetti grips on to a tomato and white wine sauce." This is especially good in those bits of writing most people forget about, like the lines about health and safety. You could say, "Can't/won't eat something? Tell someone."
Keep it simple
Retailer Marks & Spencer can get away with all that ‘this is not just smoked salmon’ stuff. On a menu it tends to sound pretentious. For Zizzi we really stripped back some of the descriptions. For their Margherita pizza, for example, we wrote: 'Tomato. Mozzarella. Olive oil. Basil. Nothing more.'
Picture a chef
If I’m stuck on where to start with a menu I picture a chef and think of their personality.
Pick a TV chef with a strong personality, someone like Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith, Nigella Lawson or Gordon Ramsay, and think about their style of presenting.
Oliver uses words like 'dollop, chuck or wodge' while Lawson is more likely to say something like 'exquisite, rambunctious and naughty'. Ramsay is all about short, sharp, straightforward statements.
Picture your chef when you write your menu and channel their style.
Use tricks in moderation
This is really important. Do any one of the things suggested previously too much and your menu will sound odd. Try reading it out loud. If you put on a funny voice, it’s not working. You want to be able to sound natural and confident.
Think like a chef and try out different things
Your first attempt at writing, or rewriting, a menu doesn’t have to be your only option. Ask diners or people you know for feedback and use their comments to improve your menu.