An article by Eric von Starck of
Panetiere Marketing Advisors, summer 2004.

Menus That Work as a Sales Tool

1) Take folder (the one with the picture of food on the front)
2) Go to pile of menus.
3) Extract the hors d'oeuvres and dinner parts that the meeting planner might be interested in.
4) Put menu sheets into folder.
5) add lots of room and meeting space collateral.
6) Add card.
7) Do label.
8) Weigh and stamp.
9) Put in out box.

I have to admit that I spent ten years doing the above 9 steps and I really did think that I was doing a good job.

We really did have two sets of entirely different menus. They were formatted differently, had different graphics and even different names. We had two profit centers for us:

1) "gourmet" corporate and private full service catering and events.
2) corporate daily meetings.

We could pick and choose from the two menu sets so as to reach our market with targeted collateral.

We even thought that we'd done an acceptable job of cross marketing.

That was until 1996 came around at it was time to look at putting together a web site and, therefore, we were handed the onerous task of looking at all of our collateral and how effective the conceptions and realizations were at communicating with our markets.

When we all sat down to think about a real marketing agenda for the menus, it dawned on us, ever so slowly that there was a raft of points that we'd never considered. We were just going with the flow of the Executive Chef rather than analyzing what we needed as compared with our comp set and, then, building from that vantage point. Dawn turned to day and we knew that we had to take over the menus and service styles as the key marketing tools of our business. Just centered "menu" looking menus were not going to cut it. Now, on the web we were being given the opportunity of customizing the food styles, the foods, the look of the banquet set-up design, in infinite patterns so as to target all our audiences - separately and discretely. We could move on from the "You can have it in any color as long as it's black". Now that does sound like an Exec Chef, doesn't it?

Back then, these are some of the points that we covered in trying to find a route map through the menu mine field of menus:

What are "menus"?

They are:

  • a sales tool for room revenue

a) need to satisfy the needs of the meeting planner - what are those needs as related to the property

  • a sales tool for celebration corporate events (also brings room revenue)
  • a sales tool for private celebrations
  • an ancillary sales tool for the spa

The menu conception can, if it so chooses

  • offer significant opportunities for PR in the way that it engages the web of the local community
  • [the local community, as we all know, is the key revenue source driver for the property in a down market and a key driver of catering revenue in all markets]
  • develop a significant web of relationships within the community and make sure that that web actually does reflect many of that community's aspirations and does so in a way that will ensure excellent PR.
  • use that same web of relationships to drive catering business toward the property.
  • locate and fill business opportunities that are not being met by the competition such as Kosher, Kosher-like, focus on young guest menus, focus on Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, French Service, Table d'Hôte Service.
  • create a written and then active reflection of the values and life aspirations that our site/city represents to many of our guests who have chosen to stay with us.
  • intrigue and delight in a manner appropriate to the property and to the locale.
  • significantly exceed the culinary offerings (for both meeting planner and private tastes) of all our local comp set and most of the national comp set (if applicable).
  • echo (on paper) the exceptional quality of the national comp set (again, if applicable)
  • reinforce the property's ties to the locale and predominant cultures..
  • clearly indicate added value
  • guard against the desire of the kitchen (any kitchen) when it is not constantly watched to "dumb-down" the product. This can range from buying redi-eggs (in some instances, yes, they are appropriate) to neglecting to roast the beets that extra half hour that turns them into sweet pungent nuggets.

For catering menus, most chefs and most catering departments work within their comfort levels and don't take the time to consider with whom they are communicating.

  • our markets - both for corporate and private are over 90% female - CRITICAL
  • further, most of the corporate-national deciders are of specific ethnic cultures. Why? - because certain cultures highly value "food" and therefore, the job of making events/deciding on menus is happily undertaken by these cultures.

The joy of creating menus lies in the predicate that you must reach into the psychology of your audiences, with the eyes in the back of your head fixed on the competition.

Menus as marketing tools is how we see them now.

Eric Starck was in the hospitality industry for decades, ran a gourmet catering and event business for 18 years, and twinned that with a daily corporate catering division. Then he had thyme, now he has time to think about how better to accomplish a goal.

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