The September issue of Fresh Cup Magazine features an article titled, “Your Board Room: a clear menu helps decisions get made,” that discusses the elements of an effective coffee menu. Coffee menu design and appearance is a critical one, as it defines your brand image and sets an expectation for customers in addition to listing the coffee beverages or other items that you offer for sale.
“A good coffee menu design educates your customers about your products and creates some expectation about the experience they will have,” says Andrew Hetzel, managing director of CafeMakers, a Hawaii-based consultancy specializing in retail coffee business concept development. “But a solid coffee menu design is an integral component of your company brand: The selection, naming, preparation, pricing and presentation of your products on the menu should project your company’s brand image—emphasizing your uniqueness and strengths.”
The article continues with a number of comments on organization, focus and establishing a perception of value with more quotes from Andrew Hetzel, Tracy Ging of the SCAA and Lora Arduser, co-author of “How to Open a Financially Successful Coffee, Espresso & Tea Shop.”
Customers may be drawn into your shop for any number of reasons, but it’s your coffee menu that will drive their purchase decisions. Will they order a double vanilla latte with their cranberry-orange scone, or will they stick with a simple cup of coffee? An effective coffee menu helps whet your customers’ appetites and spotlights your signature products. “A good coffee menu design educates your customers about your products and creates some expectation about the experience they will have,” says Andrew Hetzel, managing director of Cafemakers, a Hawaii-based consultancy specializing in retail coffee-business concept development. “But a solid coffee menu design is an integral component of your company brand: The selection, naming, preparation, pricing and presentation of your products on the menu should project your company’s brand image—emphasizing your uniqueness and strengths.”
The presentation of your coffee menu starts when the customer walks through the door. The environment, banners, postings and, finally, the designed menu should work in concert with the other elements of your business to sell your core products and promote your entire operation. An enticing menu design needs to draw attention to your specialty items and new products without being overwhelming. “A well-organized, readable, user-friendly menu is more important than creative designs and fonts,” says Tracy Ging, director of marketing and communications for the SCAA. “The customer must have a positive experience with your menu, finding what he or she wants with ease and then having it reflect the expected quality.”
Overloading your coffee menu with food and beverage choices can be confusing. It also stretches your resources and may increase your risk of diminishing the quality of what you can consistently produce. “An effective menu reflects what you can truly deliver while maintaining your quality standards,” says Lora Arduser.
Independent coffeehouses that choose to mimic national coffeehouse chains with a menu board presentation of offerings often fail to distinguish themselves. “A single-location specialty coffee bar has the ability to capitalize on regional interests, and its menu design can cater to the local culture and tastes,” says Hetzel.
Ging of SCAA says your menu should emphasize two areas: your commitment to providing quality core products and your expertise. Specializing in select products can make your menu stand out, reinforce your business brand and differentiate you from your competitors. Find what you do well, and build your brand and menu around it.
Emphasizing signature beverages on coffeehouse menus can not only increase sales, it can pattern buying behavior. “Signature beverages do not need to be complex; oftentimes simplicity is a better approach,” says Hetzel. “We have seen some independent cafés indicate that a signature traditional cappuccino (5.5 ounces) can account for as much as 85 percent of their beverage sales. That’s great for two reasons: In addition to creating a simple and great-tasting drink, you immediately eliminate competition from larger chains, which would have difficulty successfully executing a similar beverage.”
During slumping economies or highly competitive times, you may feel pressure to expand your offerings to include new beverages. But Ging advises, “Beware of ‘focus creep’—straying from what you know and do best to offer products and services that your competitor does.” Plan any menu expansions and product experimentation to support the consistent quality production of your signature beverages.
When thinking about expanding your menu, consider how you can stay true to your business brand. A purveyor of high-quality coffee might look to add similar core products—rare seasonal or first crops of new coffees, for instance. If you add secondary items such as pastries, they should not have the same size, place and weight on the menu as your core products.
Ging recommends finding a menu-design strategy that supports flexibility and expansion. Your goal should be a menu strategy that allows you to:
- Promote new or special items and seasonal treats
- Adapt for fluctuating food prices
- Meet changing customer tastes
- Capture trends in your industry
- Add new products in the marketplace
Developing staff knowledge and expertise to execute and support the menu is crucial to your business’ success. “If a business dedicates itself to one coffee beverage or range of beverages,” says Hetzel, “it is reasonable to expect that its employees will be specialists in that area.” Likewise, using your menu to educate your customers about your core products and new items generates interest and can boost sales. Share what you know. An educated customer values the quality products and services you provide, which fosters brand loyalty.
THE VALUE OF A GOOD COFFEE MENU
“Both the customer and business owner determine value in a coffee menu by looking at three things: quality, quantity and price,” says author Arduser. Value is subjective: A customer may be equally drawn by low and high prices. A customer choosing a low-price item is hoping for a quality product at a discount.
If the experience is poor, the lower price itself becomes less valuable, Arduser says. On the other hand, says Hetzel, “If your business brand is about high quality, your customer will not expect to pay the same for your premium product as for the coffee down the street.” Price your products to reflect their true values and according to your brand perception. For example, hotel rooms priced at $30 per night and $100 per night have different perceived values to the customer and business owner. Repeat business and increased profits are directly linked to a customer’s experience of quality at a corresponding price.
Think of the coffee menu as a way to keep your customer informed. How can you best highlight the new Rwandan coffee you bought at auction in light of the growing interest in single-origin coffees reported in the SCAA’s 2009 retailer survey? “If you choose to specialize as a coffee purveyor, you can focus on quality—charging more for unique blends, expertise and labor on your part,” says Ging. Once a customer is aware of your focus on quality, he or she can appreciate your selection, acquisition, roasting and preparation of the new harvest of coffee.
Coffee menu pricing strategy is complex, influenced in part by your position in the market, what you do well and what distinguishes your brand from the competition, says Hetzel. Your menu needs to reflect a mix of products with an aggressive promotion of your signature and high-profit items. It’s important to evaluate how each menu item is selling and make adjustments to increase profits by choosing to:
- Feature items of great profitability and low sales
- Re-price popular but low-margin items
- Eliminate low-margin or low-selling items that are not important to key products
Hetzel recommends including the cost of maintaining inventory, spoilage and time in preparation, with an evaluation of the sales and profitability of each menu item. This can help you account for loss and understand the true profit margin of each item you carry.
“The most important thing is that your menu works for you, drawing your customers’ attention to your most profitable core products,” says Arduser. Your menu strategy is a success if the design and descriptors generate customer expectations that are met by your staff and the quality of the product. Ideally, all these elements will work together to bring your customers back.