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Menu Makeover: Bringing Your Menu to Life

There has never been a more important time to make your menu shine. Scout Bar owner and European bartender of the year, Matt Whiley, highlights the importance of taking time to carefully construct and create a great menu when planning to reopen your bar.


We have all been to a bar where we have maybe wanted to take a menu away with us for keepsake. There is something magical in the way that bars and restaurants present what is for sale. And with the new digital age upon us, playing a significant part in hospitality now more than ever, the big question is how do we keep this magic alive?

Much More than a Menu

Lots of venues create themes, stories and use current affairs and bring them to life within their menus. A good example is Eau de Vie in Melbourne with their cocktail theatre menu, written and presented in the style of a programme with characters and tropes from various performances, from Shakespeare to Burlesque.

You have also the other end of the menu spectrum. These ‘simple’ menus, as some would call them, are usually incredibly well-designed with minimalist aesthetics. I love these menus too - anyone that has been to one of my bars will know how much I enjoy the minimalist look. Artesian in London has just released a fantastic new minimalist menu, created by bar manager Anna Sebastien, with just two ingredients in every drink.

The Future is Digital

Following our local government health guidelines on what we can and cannot do with shared and single use items such as menus, I think making the move to digital will be appealing to many in the short term. Long term I think most bars will go back to printing and designing incredible menus in the future but there is definitely value in going digital to improve sustainability efforts - at Scout we will inevitably be going that way.

There are so many things to think about when thinking about menu design. And whilst many bars around the world consider their position regarding reopening, digital gives us the easy option of simply giving our guests a website address to look at a PDF version of the menu. Clipper in Auckland have added a QR code to the coaster that you scan on your smart phone that brings the menu up straightaway.

Maybe Mae Basement have taken the initiative to use their social channels to display their drinks menu and also ensuring a PDF version is available through their channels. Customers can visit their Instagram page and find their offering in their highlights, as well as images of the drinks themselves. Another bar displaying their menu on their Instagram page is Pink Moon Saloon.

These menus all have something in common: the devil is in the detail. The designer, bartender, bar manager, bar owner and bar teams all over the world have considered everything about their menus.

Ollie Margan and Anna Sebastian chat about creative ways to present your menu and other ways to digitize on the Diageo Bar Academy masterclass How to Increase Guest Confidence.

I know when we reopen Scout we will have a lot of discussion around digital menus. After being closed for months with no income and the rent for venues still being paid, the financial implication of printing might not work for most. I think reopening will create a need to produce a much shorter and agile menu offering and a huge increase of classic cocktail ordering.

Technology will play a huge part in reopening. There are an abundance of hospitality apps that can be used to elevate the ordering and booking experience in bars whilst minimising contact and adhering to safety guidelines. These apps can also give you data on time spent in the venue which is a good indicator of guest experience at your bar. You can also learn how often a particular guest has visited and what they like to drink from the data provided, allowing you to add a personalised feel to the service you provide upon their return. Some of these apps include:

A Sustainable Menu

We will definitely be using all of our existing inventory when reopening, to be efficient and cut down on food waste and spending. We always try to utilise every ingredient we have to our disposal. With the abundant summer months producing fresh foraged ingredients we can keep our costs low by going out and searching for local produce or growing our own. Start foraging and looking for ingredients that are available for free in the great outdoors. This activity is not only sustainable but is stimulating and forces us at the bar to be more creative.

Or, if this is not possible, form a good relationship with suppliers and local fruit and veg shops to see if you can take away any products that are not selling in store before they start to spoil. Preservation and fermentation techniques will help you keep flavours going for a long time due to higher yields. We ferment fruit to change the flavour, reduce sugar levels, and add acidity and carbonation and to bring out the vinegar notes – therefore, it makes real economic sense to use fruit that is already part of the way there.

And as for the contents of your menu, I’d advise to start with a minimal number of serves to keep things as simple as possible as you reopen. You can always build on your menu as you go.

For now, I shall see you at the bar, armed with a smart phone and a small bottle of santiser.

Key Takeaways


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