Rethinking Restaurant Menus


Jessica Jendres

With Spring just around the corner, a good chunk of us are dreaming of eating on restaurant patios.

And of course one essential part to a dine-in experience is to take that hot minute to read through the menu. With Covid precautions in place though, the physical menu might be pushed aside for awhile. Gone are the days of sharing around menu boards, now you scan barcodes to pull up the restaurant’s not mobile friendly website or PDF menu that you’d rather not download directly to your phone. So, how do we prepare for a different dining experience?

Back in Summer 2020, I dined at several restaurants and 4 out of the 5 times I was asked to scan this tiny board that held a QR Code to access their menu. Personally, I love this approach since instead of sharing a menu with another person or getting one of those menus with leftover… customer residue. You don’t feel rushed looking to find your order so another person can look for theirs.

The problem with this format is that a LOT of restaurants have not made their websites and by extension their menus mobile friendly. Which is a little understandable. While mobile devices are the leading traffic source for most websites, pulling up your phone during a dinner meal is still a little faux-pas for some people. Taking photos of your food is unavoidable at this rate but that’s usually the only time we bring out our phones while eating. So why would the restaurant industry focus on an aspect that doesn’t fit their mold well. It’s one type of frustration to feature hard to read text on your printed menus, it’s another type to have a non responsive mobile menu where you accidentally tap on an item while zooming in to read a description.

Creating mobile responsive menus should incorporate a few things:

  1. toggle between sections (appetizers, main courses)
  2. ability to see photo(s) of the menu item(s)
  3. fast loading times
  4. big and easy to read text (before any phone settings are required)

A lot of benefits can be created with mobile menus. For one, you can design a menu that allows users to view pictures of the food item that they wouldn’t have been able to include on a printed out menu due to constraints in budget or design. Another benefit is that you can include all the nutritional value for the menu item without worrying about taking up space on the menu.

Luckily you wouldn’t need to look much further to see that the fast food industry has adapted this thinking. While brick and mortar restaurants are picking up the pace, mobile menus for fast food joints are so accessible and easy to follow. Take in mobile menus for places like Starbucks, Freshii, and Wendy’s. All relatively simple but they show enough information to guide the user through the menu. Of course Starbucks is the greatest example of a menu website working amazingly. They implement a cookie crumb system at the top, photos of all the menu items and full information when you tap the photo.

Digital menus have become second nature to some foodies.

A lot of people (myself included) love to check out a restaurant’s menu at home on their computer before going out so they won’t spend extra time looking at every single item. (Pro Tip: Also saves the embarrassment of pronouncing a menu item wrong since you’ve had the time beforehand to learn.)

So while the world is still trying to figure out the best course of action living and breathing in these covid times. Restaurants can help out by eliminating touchpoints and create an experience that guides their customers through their menu, without frustration.

*This is taking into account that those who do go out to eat at restaurants during this time have access to data, wifi or have a new phone. Of course those with an older generation phone will not be able to access menus of this nature. Which is horrible in terms of accessibility even though it eliminates touch points for covid.

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