online restaurant menu

How to Develop an Online Restaurant Menu That Attracts, Converts, and Satisfies Customers

If you’re reading this article, it probably means you’ve decided to launch your online restaurant. Or you’re interested in optimizing your menu for online sales. Either way, you’re making a smart business decision with long-term benefits for your restaurant’s bottom line. On average, online customers spend $5 more per order than in-restaurant diners.

We’re here to help you get your online menu live fast with a few simple steps. With MenuDrive’s easy-to-use Menu Builder and the below tips and tricks, you’ll be armed with everything you need to launch your online restaurant menu and turn site visitors into satisfied customers. 

Here are a few things you’ll need to get started:

  • Your brick-and-mortar restaurant menu
  • Images of your menu items

If you haven’t set up your MenuDrive account yet, take a few minutes to get started. And if you have any questions along the way, you can always check out our account setup documents and videos.

Attract Customers with a Simple Menu

Before you start adding your menu items, first take some time to define your online customers and determine if/how they differ from your in-person customers. Ordering takeout or delivery is a different process from sitting down for a served meal, and your customers’ needs will reflect that. 

What customers want from their takeout or delivery experience, above all else, is convenience. 97% of consumers have abandoned a purchase because the service wasn’t convenient enough. Your customers arrive at your online menu when they don’t have time to cook or eat at a restaurant. This means they also don’t have time to browse a long menu on your website. 

Customer drop-off is highest on pages where customers are asked to do something, like pick menu items or complete the checkout process. You can increase your conversion up to 50% just by simplifying the options. Make it fast and easy for your customers, and you’ll be sure to make them happy. 

Another great reason to keep your menu short and focused? It improves efficiency. When McDonald’s limited their menu in 2020, they saw improved customer satisfaction scores, and better speed of service and order accuracy in many major markets,” the fast-food giant told Nation’s Restaurant NewsWe removed All Day Breakfast from the menu to simplify operations in our kitchens, which we saw provided better speed of service and order accuracy.”

As you prepare your online menu, consider two important principles: the paradox of choice and the Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule.

Avoid Choice Overload to Increase Sales

Paradox of choice: the inability to make a decision because of too many choices

Your online customers’ ultimate goal is not to browse your menu or even make a choice. Their goal is to satisfy their hunger. Your goal, as the restaurant owner, is to make that as easy as possible. An important thing to note is that more choice does not always equal more convenience. That’s where the paradox of choice comes in. 

Consider this oft-cited jam study. Psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper presented grocery-store shoppers with two scenarios: a display of 24 jams versus a display of six. More customers visited and sampled from the larger assortment. But when it came time to actually make a purchase, 30% of the people with fewer options decided to buy. On the other hand, only 3% from the larger-assortment scenario did.

The customers who shopped at the display of 24 jams experienced what is called analysis paralysis: the inability to make a decision because of too many choices. Psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, agrees with Iyengar and Lepper’s findings, saying that too much choice can be debilitating for customers. 

Not only that, but if the customer does make a decision, too much choice can lead to disappointment – aka buyer’s remorse. 

According to the Kellogg Institute, you can predict and prevent choice overload by limiting the number of choices, making the architecture of your menu easy to navigate, and making the available options distinct from each other. After all, it’s easier to choose between an apple and an orange than a red apple and a green apple!

If you apply this research to your online menu, you’ll see that limiting your customers’ choices may lead to more sales and happier customers. 

Tip from the MenuDrive Success Team: Offer fewer menu items on your online restaurant storefront. When it comes to online menus, less really is more!

Prioritize Best Sellers with the 80/20 Rule

The Pareto principle: 80% of outcomes result from 20% of causes

When you factor in your customers’ need for convenience, your online menu simply can’t be everything to everyone, unlike a longer brick-and-mortar menu. You’ll find better results if you pick your best sellers and let them shine. Apply the Pareto principle to your online menu.

The Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule, is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who discovered that 80% of land in Italy was owned by just 20% of the population. Similarly, there may be a few items on your menu that account for the majority of your restaurant’s revenue. Look at your sales reports to identify these best sellers, and highlight them on your menu and in your marketing efforts. You’ll make the choice very easy for your customers – and you’ll make money in the process.

Tip from the MenuDrive Success Team: Pick your best-selling menu items, and spotlight them in your online menu. Base future success on past performance. 

Choose Your Menu Items

Ready to get your online menu up and running? Remember these rules:

  1. Make decisions easy with clear-cut menu items. Don’t let customers hem and haw over similar menu items or too many add-ons. 
  2. Break down multiple-choice decisions into steps. If there are options for your menu items, such as which type of cheese to add to your burger, make that choice available after they’ve selected the burger. After they finish one decision, they’ll be ready to make another.

With convenience in mind, focus on these menu offerings:

  • Best sellers  You’ve identified the items that contribute most to your revenue. Let them shine!
  • Easy travelers  You want your customers to be as satisfied as if they were dining at your restaurant. Avoid delicate items that may spoil during transport.
  • Meal add-ons – Online shoppers want everything they need for their meal in one transaction. Remember to offer items like drinks and side dishes (which double as upsell opportunities).
  • Combination meals  Can you make eating at home even simpler for your customers with combination meals for couples and families? If so, offer easy one-click ordering of combo meals.

Not sure what to leave out? Save these items for in-store dining.

  • Items that take a long time to prepare – You don’t want to keep your online customers waiting any longer than you have to.
  • High-cost specialty items – Special dining experiences are best left for your restaurant’s brick-and-mortar dining experience. Your online customers are less likely to order a fancy meal when dining at home.

While building your menu, keep in mind that it’s a living document. With MenuDrive, it’s easy to make updates whenever you’d like. For launch, the most important thing is to go live with the essentials. Later, you can check your sales reports in MenuDrive to analyze your menu’s performance and make changes as needed.

Write Your Item Descriptions

Keep the descriptions for your menu options short and clear. Don’t fill the allotted space with flowery descriptions or a list of every possible add-on. Tell your audience exactly what they’re ordering, including any allergens and extras. Don’t assume everyone knows there’s mayo on that sandwich.

Consider below which of these two menu items you’d order yourself:

  • Signature Grass-Fed Angus Burger with Duck Fat Fries
    • Comes on a lightly toasted sesame seed bun with tomato, lettuce, and ketchup
  • Signature Burger and Fries
    • Choice of toppings (50 cents each additional): Lettuce, Tomato, Cheddar, Provolone, Blue Cheese, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, Pickles, Raw Onions, Caramelized Onions, Crispy Onions, Mushrooms, Mayo, Ketchup, Mustard. Choice of fries: Curly Fries, Duck Fat Fries, Sweet Potato Fries (50 cents extra), Twice Cooked Fries, Waffle Fries, Tater Tots (50 cents extra)

You’d choose the first option, right? It’s simple, it’s appealing, it’s mouth-watering. In other words, you’d be ready to add it to your cart and enjoy!

Set Your Menu Prices and Add Rewards

Cost out your menu items, considering the labor involved in maintaining an online business, like packaging and delivery (if applicable). Your customers are likely to be willing to pay a little extra for the convenience of having their food brought right to them. 

Don’t you just love a good deal? Your customers do too. 94% of consumers search for a deal or offer before making a purchase, and 74% say special offers are a main factor in their decision making. Consider any extra savings you can pass on to your customers, such as 10% off a first order or combination meal. With MenuDrive’s coupon library and customized rewards, you’ll give your restaurant a competitive edge in the crowded online marketplace. Learn more about adding incentives to your online menu.

Make a Lasting Impression with Menu Photos

Before you finalize your menu, it’s important to make it aesthetically pleasing. Your menu photos may be the most powerful tool at your disposal when ensuring customer conversions. 

High-quality, authentic photography can go a long way toward telling your food’s story. Picture the steam rising from a nest of pasta, the cheese oozing from a pressed panini, the glaze glistening on a fresh doughnut. A picture is worth a thousand words, and it sells! Humans process images faster than text, and users are more likely to engage with a product that has an image. Photos entice customers to click that “Add to Cart” button. Just remember to avoid stock photography; your customers want to see photos that are truly representative of the food they’re ordering.

It’s also important to test your restaurant menu on desktop and mobile. After all, 48.33% of internet users are on mobile devices. You don’t want to leave them behind.

If you need help adding images to your online menu, be sure to check out our setup documents and videos.

Launch Your Online Restaurant Menu Today

The bottom line? Too much choice on your menu leads to customer drop-off and abandoned orders. Don’t lose customers with this easily fixable mistake. Delight your customers with a convenient, easy-to-read menu that a) makes decision making as simple as possible and b) highlights your best-selling menu items. 

Given how easy it is to sign up and begin using MenuDrive’s online tools, you could have your online restaurant up, running, and selling in no time!

Once your new menu is live, focus on marketing your online restaurant (we can help you there, too!) and using MenuDrive’s built-in reporting. Fine-tuning your online menu is an ongoing process that will lead to continued digital restaurant success.

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