Monday, August 11, 2008

The menu question

A few weeks ago, I asked the following question:

[W]ould you rather go to a restaurant that:

  • Has a huge menu (so big you can hardly get through the whole thing) that stays the same every time you visit, or
  • Has a one-page menu that changes every time you visit?

Assuming the quality is consistent, which would you choose? And why?

As I mentioned, the question related to a marketing issue and wasn’t really about food. It must have hit a nerve, though, because the post received quite a few comments and even more e-mails, most of which took the restaurant analogy and ran with it.

So what was the point? Well, I’ve been working on some web usability studies for clients, and I’ve become increasingly convinced that less is more—on the web and elsewhere. I believe in the paradox of choice to some extent, but I still think people want variety. The challenge is providing variety within a constraint, which sounds like a contradiction in terms even though it's not. The answers I received--almost everyone chose the one-page menu that changes frequently--reinforced my belief that there’s a distinct difference between giving your audience something new--and high quality--every time you see them, as opposed to just throwing everything out there at once and hoping they’ll discover the good stuff.

Part of the problem is that people just don’t have—or aren’t willing to give you—the time to wade through a huge menu. Jon summed this us nicely in his comment:

I hate facing a menu that I cannot completely read before ordering. I hate that!

And Heather, a new reader from Oregon, added this:

I always get intimidated with a too long menu, like I might miss THE special dish...because I couldn't find it!

The issue of quality isn't just about what you might overlook. It also involves the time and attention an organization will give to things when it's trying to do too much. Beth made this point in her comment:

I find that restaurants with too many offerings end up being a jack of all trades, master of none.

As did Julianne, who knows her stuff when it comes to both restaurants and marketing:

I have talked to enough chefs to know that when they are able to choose the dishes for the day guided by the season or inspiration or fresh ingredients or a new wine on the list, and they can set the menu to express their talents and training, that they then bring enthusiasm and pride to this dish, and it's likely the best you'll ever taste.

The challenge for all marketers—not just restaurants—is keeping things exciting, satisfying our need for fresh options but making those choices clear and easy to find.
Arienne made this point in her comment about restaurants with constantly changing one-page menus:

These are almost always the best places to dine because you explore something new.

And sometimes, as Joe stated, the element of surprise itself is what draws people in:

One of my favorite restaurants in Denver does not even have that. They walk up and tell you the 3 choices you have. And...I have never went to Denver without eating there!

All of these responses were great, but my favorite came from Sarah, who agreed with a lot of the points made above while putting her usual unique spin on things:

I don't like to sacrifice quality for quantity. Restaurants with giant menus generally have something to satisfy any palette, but none of the dishes excel....I also feel that a restaurant that's always changing requires an active, involved owner and/or chef, whereas the place with the huge static menu requires some yahoo with a clipboard to merely keep an eye out for the Sysco truck while some 16-year-old stoner chops a bag of onions before peeling a crate of potatoes and rinsing off last week's fish to get rid of the ammonia smell.

There are several analogies between your organization and these two types of restaurants. One big issue, of course, is whether it's being managed by an "active, involved owner and/or chef" or "some yahoo with a clipboard." Today more than ever, it’s important to do a few things well instead of being all things to all people--and that takes time and attention that generalists just can't give.

It also comes down to how today's audience interacts with your message. On the web, for example, we know that people who visit your page spend just a few minutes on your site before leaving. So when you're thinking about what should go on your home page, and how much content to include overall, think "today's special," not "everything on the menu is good...what do you like?" You need to spoon-feed your audience nothing but the best options you have to offer, with confidence that when they're hungry for more, they'll return to you.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

A lot of good food for thought there. (ha)