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Serving Up Savings: How Restaurants Use Digital Menus to Cut Costs

Ordering food has come a long way from peering at chalkboards and dog-eared paper menus. These days, going out to eat at many restaurants means scrolling through sleek digital menus on tables or personal mobile devices. From casual quick-service chains to upscale establishments, restaurants across the industry have been replacing traditional printed menus with digital versions. While this tech-savvy change delights many guests, it also offers financial benefits for restaurant operators in the form of lower costs. Read on to learn more about why switching from paper menus to electronic formats allows restaurants to serve up significant savings.

How Much Do Print Menus Typically Cost?

The cost of producing paper menus often goes unnoticed or gets overlooked by restaurant operators. But consider the pricing for just a simple tri-fold menu with a few pages: most print shops charge £50 to £80 or more for an order of 1,000 basic menus. Nicer menus printed on higher quality materials or thicker card stock can easily run over £150 per 1,000 copies. Now factor in costs like changing prices, fixing typos or updating menu items. Every minor edit requires reprinting and ordering physical menus all over again.

Over the course of a year, many standard full-service restaurants can spend £4,000 or more on menu printing. Options like seasonal menus with specials, kids’ menus, beer or wine lists – all equate to replacing and restocking endless numbers of throwaway paper products. Importantly, these costs often provide little return on investment. Menus represent an operating expense for restaurants, not a profit centre.

Digital Menus Radically Reduce Production Costs

By adopting digital menus, restaurants can practically eliminate their recurring print production costs. A one-time expense can cover display tablets, interface programming and menu layout. After the initial setup, future changes to pricing, descriptions or items take place instantly in the cloud. There is no wastage of out-of-date paper menus each time a modification occurs.

Digital designs also enable creativity at a lower cost. Adding engaging photos, animations or even sounds to enhance guest experiences can happen behind-the-scenes at little added charge. Plus, digital menus allow restaurants to spotlight higher margin items more prominently with custom messaging and imagery to drive upselling. Unlike static print versions, they offer flexibility to advertise daily specials or newly added menu listings through digital alerts and banners.

Digital Menus Save on Labour Too

Updating traditional printed menus requires additional effort from employees as well. Servers must discard old menus and replace them with new ones by hand throughout the restaurant each time a change happens. They may also need to be briefed about alterations. Digital menus centralise control instead. A single manager can push updates remotely without ever leaving the office.

Even simple digital PDF menus can be edited seamlessly using a PDF to Word editor tool like Small PDF. Without chasing down paper menus, less total labour gets wasted making revisions. And automatic syncing of devices ensures all staff access the same latest version simultaneously without confusion. Employees can then focus on guests, not shuffling menus.

Extra Savings: Reduced Order Errors and Waste

Are servers sometimes unable to read guests’ handwritten orders? Perhaps kitchen staff then misinterpret items due to illegible writing. These small communication breakdowns show up as order mistakes or waste when incorrect dishes get sent back and discarded. But digital ordering technology can clarify this process.

Guests enter their own selections on tablets at the table, eliminating ambiguities. The ordered items then get transmitted straight to kitchen display systems, minimising errors. Reduced waste keeps more profit on the table instead of sending it to landfills. Diners also perceive better service when they receive exactly what they input themselves electronically.

Exploring Popular Digital Menu Options

With paper menus fading fast, more choices than ever now exist for restaurants considering the switch to digital formats. Plus, diners today expect tech conveniences when eating out. They appreciate touches like customising orders, split payments, and tableside entertainment. Operators must select solutions aligned with their business needs, capabilities and guest demographics. Here is an overview of some top platforms revolutionising the menu experience:

QR Code Menus

QR code menus represent the most budget-friendly digital option but offer less sophistication than other formats. Guests simply scan a QR code at the table, on signage or menus using their mobile device. This pulls up an online menu they can browse and order from directly.

Pros:

  • Very low cost to generate printable QR codes linked to an ordering website
  • Suitable for fast casual restaurants and bars on tight budgets

Cons:

  • Provides no devices for guests without mobile phones
  • Less visual engagement or personalisation compared to app or tablet menus

Tablet-Based E-Menus

Tablet devices provide guests with an interactive, visually engaging menu browsing experience. Devices are either fixed permanently on tables or handed out by staff. Touchscreen functionality allows easy navigation and customisation.

Pros:

  • Visually compelling and interactive
  • Allows promotions and upsells through images and alerts
  • Can collect customer data and order history

Cons:

  • Hardware costs involved with purchasing tablets
  • Ongoing maintenance and charging required
  • Can slow service if devices break down

Digital Menu Apps

Sophisticated native apps represent the gold standard for convenience and customisation. Guests download the restaurant’s app to their phone and access mobile menus, ordering, promotions, reservations, and more.

Pros:

  • Provides unified and branded experience
  • Enables remote ordering and waitlist management
  • Powerful customer analytics and engagement tools

Cons:

  • High development costs for custom apps
  • Complex to manage across iOS and Android
  • Guests may be reluctant to download apps

As consumer behaviours and priorities change, digital transformations reshape the restaurant landscape in new ways. Transitioning menus from traditional print copies to electronic and even interactive formats represents one small but meaningful evolution. Operators gain measurable cost reductions from no longer producing endless disposable materials. They reinvest savings into qualitative upgrades that attract modern diners through richness, personalisation and conveniences.

At the same time, businesses reduce waste significantly while improving internal efficiencies. Ultimately, digital menus check every box: they lower overhead costs for restaurants, keep guests happier, and contribute positively to the planet. With returns like these, paper might soon fade altogether from tomorrow’s menus.

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