Alrighty folks, the time has come for us to seriously start contemplating our menu board as we near our opening day for thirty-thirty Coffee Co. here in Downtown Peoria, IL. 

 

We want to keep it simple but attractive at the same time.  Any thoughts?  Should we do a simple, framed menu by the register?  Or something larger on our beautiful brick wall behind he bar? 

 

We are a traditional coffee bar with a limited menu but at the same time want to be creative. 

 

Any thoughts or suggestions for us?

 

 

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I have seen quite a number of chalk board menus done quite well.  Just make sure to have someone with a creative hand do the writing.  Also remember that it is much easier to add a menu item at a later date than it is to remove one.
First I have a question...   what theme or design did you go with in your shop?   What would say is the style, mood, ambiance of the shop?

I'll pose a different idea entirely:

 

You walk into a restaurant you've never been to.  You spot white tablecloths and fine glassware on the tables.  There may even be multiple wine glasses, or multiple forks, etc.  The staff is dressed in professional (but not stuffy) attire.  You are greeted by a host/hostess who's first question is simply, "How are you doing tonight?  What can we do for you?"  What level restaurant are you in?  Fast food?  Casual dining?  Upscale?

 

When you walk into a shop what are 4 things that you expect to see?

 

(Actually stop to think about this before reading on... look away from the screen and such.)

 

Most people would reply they expect to see a register, a pastry case, a machine and a menu (I've actually done this pole, the only thing that gets subbed out sometimes is the pastry case for 'a barista.')

 

Do you want your shop to look like every other shop?  Are you providing the same coffee and the same service as everyone else in the area?  Or, are you offering a product or a model that is different than other people around you?  Are you special for some reason?  If so, how are you letting your customers know that you are different?

 

The table settings?  The chairs?  The equipment?  The layout?

 

How many of those customers are going to notice the equipment and realize it's top of the line?  How many customers are going to understand that all of the extra words behind a coffee refer to the farm that it comes from when looking at a label?  Very few.  How many of those people are going to look at all of these "signs of quality" before looking at the menu which reads like every other menu they've seen?  Nearly zero.  If every restaurant around you had the same table settings, the same general layout and the menu read the same, how would you know before eating your food that it was going to be worth it?  Maybe word of mouth.  Maybe not.  Why not get their attention right away?

 

They walk in and the first thing they look for is a menu.  They see none.

 

Their confused, but it's okay, because you have a competent, polite, friendly barista right in front of them guiding them through their order.  You converse with the customer, asking them what they want, you learn their likes and dislikes and offer them a couple suggestions.

 

Why set up every front bar like a fast food chain if you are trying to prove you're different than our "fast-food" ever-present 'competitor' Starbucks?  Why put the register directly in front of the menu so that the customer walks in, looks up, mutters words, hands you money and shuffles down the line?  What about that was original?  Nothing...

 

Don't be everyone else.

 

If they absolutely need a menu, you hand them one of your printed copies that you have within reach behind the bar.

 

... what's your white tablecloth?

 

-bry

As far as I can tell the buying public loves us.  I think it's more just different styles and different approaches.  I wouldn't say I completely disagree with having a menu on the wall, I just like to stand out.  I think at the heart of it we all want to stand out.  Not having a menu is one way that we do it.  Having an awesome training school is one way you do it.  So is having the television screen with videos of latte art being poured.  Both of those things are awesome and they work great for you.  Being eye-contact and verbal communication/question based is one way that we do it.

 

I want my employees to get to know their customers.  I want both sides of the counter to ask questions, to become curious.  If you give your customers something special (a genuine interaction) up front they'll assume they are going to get something special in the end.  I'd say 90% of customers know what they are going to order before they walk in: a straight drink (manual brew/americano), a milk drink (latte) or a flavored milk drink (mocha, flavored latte).  Beyond that they're probably going to ask questions and get opinions from the staff anyway, which is where those questions come in.  A shop where no one asks questions is the complete opposite of what I want.

 

The same reason I don't expect every bar I walk into to have every single beer, liquor, and mixed drink they offer on a menu over the mirror on the back wall, I don't expect every coffee shop to have every possible combination of milk, coffee and flavor on a menu front and center, and in my opinion it's a misconception for us to assume that all of our customers do.

 

For me it really just gets to the impression of the shop that I want to get across when someone walks in, and I don't want that impression to be that they should expect my shop, my conversation and my coffee beverages to be just like everyone else's.

 

It's not to say that it will work for everyone, and the more products you offer the more of a disaster this will become for you.  We have a very simple menu, 2 syrup flavors and a chocolate sauce.  We have an iced beverage menu that consists of signature beverages our baristas have created that is printed for ease of communication as some of the beverages get complicated.  We also have menus printed on paper for our customers to take with them if they wish, or to look over while deciding (if they really want to break down all of the beverages that we offer).  This system has worked great for us in 3 different locations, each one with a very different customer base.  Downtown business folk and bankers, suburban "venti caramel macchiato" folks and rural/industrial "black coffee in my big gulp mug to-go" customers.  

 

When our customers ask, "Where's your menu?" we simply reply, "We actually go without one so we can discuss your likes and dislikes with you.  We like to make sure you're getting something you really want, not just a word that looks familiar.  What do you normally get when you go to a shop?  More like a black coffee or more like a latte?"  We've NEVER had anyone get upset or freaked out about this.

 

That said, we're in the Pacific Northwest where, "different" is becoming increasingly normal.  We are able to easily do what we do because our menu is simple, if we had 2 dozen syrup flavors or an extensive food setup it would kill us, but for us it works out great.  Maybe not for everyone, and Jack I know your setup works great for you, which is... well... great for you.  Ours is great for us, which is... well... great for us.  At the end of the day, maybe neither will be right for Ty.

 

-bry

well said bry. 

 

at the shop i work we have a menu above our heads and while done well on chalkboards it certainly encourages a fast food mentality. with my own event and catering bar we simply go with a small chalkboard on the counter and small 3x5 cards (done well) highlighting the coffee(s) we are serving.

 

my preference is the latter of the two and it seems to encourage a fuller response from both the customer and the barista.

 

peace with your decision and opening ty.

 

-luke.

Don't over-engineer the customer experience.

In this foodservice sector, as in all except fine-dining, streamlining the customer experience is key to efficient relationship building. 

In other words - keep it simple, but also keep it aligned with your brand definition and promise.

If you put yourself in the customer's shoes (both existing and new), they are there to buy something to rejuvenate their day. The main agenda is to make a purchase. The main objective of the customer is to know what you offer. Make it clean and simple for them to get this task out of the way.

As a caution, if you change your menu for seasonality (a smart move for any operator), then it is lesser expense if you stay away from printed menus and go with the "chalkboard" type solution.

Also, in this digital age, make sure you update your menu on social websites, like Yelp, Google Places and UrbanSpoon. If you have a website or blog - make sure you have your updated menu on a mobile version that's easy to see.

Jeff from Mocafe

One of my favorite cafes around here has no big menu, just a clipboard with a printout on it.  It mainly displays the different single origins on rotation, but below is a simple list of drinks, prices and cost of a pastry.  Sounds like what Bryan was suggesting, and I think this is a good middle ground.  It makes it so they have to step up to the counter so you could engage them, but gives them the option of picking up a menu and standing aside if they don't feel like trying to articulate to a barista what kind of drink they might want.  People do appreciate a custom unique experience, but then, sometimes (maybe most of the time) people just want to see what they want, and order it in your cafe's language without revealing how much they know or don't know about coffee.

 

And there's another issue that hasn't been brought up I don't think, which is price.  As the specialty industry gets more special, people don't know what to expect to pay anymore, and it's awkward to ask.  By not listing prices you're saying "trust us, whatever we decide to charge you, it'll be worth it".  That may work for a really high end restaurant where for their clientele money is no object, but if you're charging $5.00 for a pourover and they only know after they've ordered it, most people are gonna be pissed.

 

I definitely get what Bryan's saying though, quality and service are most important, but flare and uniqueness seems to mean the difference between a successful cafe and one that people hear about from other cities.   

How stupid do we think our customers are?  If we don't put, "Espresso, Macchiato, Cappuccino, Latte, Mocha" in front of our customers do you really expect them to not realize that you don't have them?

 

If a customer walks into your shop and sees an espresso machine I'm willing to bet that 99% of them are going to come to the conclusion that you serve espresso beverages.  Beyond that they are probably going to ask questions anyway.

 

If I walk into a pizza joint I'm going to assume they sell pizza.  They probably have pepperoni, they probably have an assortment of different veggies as well.  If I walk into a bar I'm going to assume they can make me a Long Island or a Manhattan or a Martini just like any other bar.  If I'm at a breakfast joint I'm going to assume they can make me some biscuits and gravy and that they probably put their own spin on it.

 

Why do we assume that every coffee shop needs to label the same damn menu over and over and over in order for our customers to feel "comfortable?"  Why don't we just not put a scripted employee standing at a register who's sole purpose is to get that customer out of the way as soon as possible?

 

I don't think our model "over-engineers the customer experience," I think it just isn't modeled after a chain model, and for some reason the majority of shop owners out there who claim to be extraordinarily different from those chains try to look as much like them as possible.  Why is that?  If I walk into a food joint that looks just like a McD's or Burger King, why would I assume I'm going to get an experience different than that?  Why do we all have 3 sizes, a coffee of the day ready to go and a menu that dutifully explains every possible combo we can wrap our minds around and then act surprised when our customers order something off of a Starbucks menu?  We have given them no reason to expect anything different, so they don't.

 

This is our fault for not 'engineering' a different customer experience, not the customer's for following our lead.

 

-bry

Do have them Bry... Do have them... Way to make a huge typo in a post about intelligence... lol.

Bryan Wray said:

...not realize that you don't have them?

 

Price is the only hangup we've run across, but we always tell them the price before making their beverage.

 

We don't have a clipboard, but we do have a stack of small printed menus off to the side in easy reach of a customer that wants to step aside for a second.  They never get touched, haha.  Well, not never, that's an exaggeration, but definitely countable on one hand per day.

 

-bry

christopher myers said:

One of my favorite cafes around here has no big menu, just a clipboard with a printout on it.  It mainly displays the different single origins on rotation, but below is a simple list of drinks, prices and cost of a pastry.  Sounds like what Bryan was suggesting, and I think this is a good middle ground.  It makes it so they have to step up to the counter so you could engage them, but gives them the option of picking up a menu and standing aside if they don't feel like trying to articulate to a barista what kind of drink they might want.  People do appreciate a custom unique experience, but then, sometimes (maybe most of the time) people just want to see what they want, and order it in your cafe's language without revealing how much they know or don't know about coffee.

 

And there's another issue that hasn't been brought up I don't think, which is price.  As the specialty industry gets more special, people don't know what to expect to pay anymore, and it's awkward to ask.  By not listing prices you're saying "trust us, whatever we decide to charge you, it'll be worth it".  That may work for a really high end restaurant where for their clientele money is no object, but if you're charging $5.00 for a pourover and they only know after they've ordered it, most people are gonna be pissed.

 

I definitely get what Bryan's saying though, quality and service are most important, but flare and uniqueness seems to mean the difference between a successful cafe and one that people hear about from other cities.   

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