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A little light to read by?

Heather  Turner
by Heather Turner November 19, 2012
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I went out to eat at a local restaurant with my husband a few nights ago, great food, terrific service…..and poor lighting.

The lighting was soft, romantic and created a lovely ambiance, but you couldn’t for the life of you read the menu. We resorted to trying to use the glow of a cell phone to read the darn thing and ended up settling for something that looked familiar (or at least semi-readable) and missed being able to read about 80% of the other menu offerings.

I wrote a post a while back about the importance of viewing your restaurant from a customer’s perspective http://www.foodservice.com/blogs/restaurant-management/View-Your-restaurant-from-a-customers-perspective/, and this is another case where the owner of the restaurant could have benefited from looking at their menu while seated in a darkened dining room.

As an example, a few years ago I had dinner at a friend’s restaurant and ran into the same thing. I had a conversation after dinner with my friend, and asked out of curiosity how many people commented on the low lighting, that also had trouble reading the menu like I did, and she said she thought a few people had.

We carried it one step further and asked each of the staff on shift that night, and each said at least 3 or 4 tables PER NIGHT commented on it. We also took a little time and analyzed her menu, and her last few months of sales per menu item, and found that during lunch time, when there was more natural lighting coming into the restaurant, diners were ordering more variety off of the menu. Lunch pricing and dinner pricing were not that much different from each other. Her dinner tickets respectively were items that were easily identifiable in the low lightening. Unfortunately many of these were from the lower priced end of the menu.

As a trial run, the owner went to Barnes and Noble and bought several book lights that would fit their menu covers, and started offering them to diners when waiters brought menus to the tables. The book lights seemed to go over quite well with the diners, and she bought several dozen more to have on hand.

In the course of two months the items ordered during dinner hours underwent a dramatic shift. Items that before, had only been high ticket items during lunch, transitioned over as well into dinner. The cost of buying (at retail) book lights equaled about $150.00. The two month cost return on having diners being able to see her menu more clearly, resulted in over $4000 of profit.

While this seems like such a simple thing, it’s frequently overlooked by restaurant owners, it falls into a similar category of having your menu printed with a fancy
(unreadable) font script. People just are not thinking things all the way through, especially things right in front of their eyes. It “looks” nice, that means it is nice.

Which brings the question to the forefront, what every owner and restaurant manager should be asking, are they getting feedback from waitstaff, not just customers?

Case in point, how many years literally had the above restaurant been open with low lighting that was affecting menu sales? Over 4 years. If she had asked her waiters feedback on what they heard from customers on a daily basis, she would have fixed/addressed the problem much sooner.

If on average they had made that extra $83 a day (open 6 days a week), that they made in the last two months, since they opened, they would have made over $95K extra. Worth the slight extra cost of making the menu readable, don’t you think?

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