Taming Your Menus: Are Too Many Menu Items Confusing Your Customers?

Too Many Menu Items Can Confuse Customers

When it comes to choice, people often think that more is better. Restaurants stuff their menus with hundreds of items, banks offer a dizzying array of savings plans, devices come with almost endless customization options… and websites all too frequently have a staggering number of items.

The arguments in favor of providing a great deal of choice are compelling:  you want your customers to be able to see everything you have to offer, and you don’t want them to struggle to find anything.

However, providing too many menu items could actually be driving your customers away rather than making life easier for them.

A Psychological Study On… Jam

A now-famous experiment, conducted by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, involved jams. Yes, jams. (As in the jarred fruit mixed with sugar and pectin.)

On one day, a display of 24 different flavors of jam was set up in a shopping mall. Shoppers who paused to sample some jam were offered a coupon in case they decided to make a purchase. The next day the setup was repeated, but this time with only six different flavors.

The results were startling:  while the larger display drew bigger crowds, customers were almost 10 times more likely to make a purchase when the range of options was limited to six. For many, it seems, the prospect of choosing one item from a range of 24 was too daunting. For this reason, they didn’t choose at all.

A similar phenomenon applies to website menus. Whatever your customer is looking for, there’s a healthy chance that if your menu is too extensive and confusing, he or she will simply give up the search. The technical term for this is “decision paralysis.” Reduce the number of choices on your website menus to prevent your visitors from falling victim to decision paralysis.

Like the food, a menu should be easy to digest. By providing a small number of clearly labeled choices to your visitors, you’ll clean up the look of your website, and increase your conversion rate as well.  

Getting Creative, Staying Simple

Diners spend an average of 109 seconds reading menus. With the average customer’s attention span clocking in at under 2 minutes, all of a restaurant’s menu items should be obvious. Keep menu items to the minimum and be wary of the overuse of page space.

Eye scanning patterns affect the readability of menus. 99designs contributor, Rebecca Creger, points out that customers’ tend to read menus like they would a book, beginning the in the top left corner. Creger suggests splitting menu items sequentially into logical sections. Using boxes is one easy way to sort choices and highlight signature dishes.

No matter if you want a colorful menu filled with illustrations or a much more simple layout, be sure to keep the reading experience at the forefront of design.

In the case that you venture to redesign your menu, check out Art of the Menu for some design inspiration. Art of the Menu is a collection of well-designed, clear, legible menus from all over the world. For example, Gossip Downtown’s signature cocktail menu is extremely playful in its design and pagination of menu items. Yet, the journal-sized menu is equally clear and simple.

Fewer Menu Items Makes an Easy Guest Experience

Fast Food’s Return to Small Menus

Even quick service and fast casual restaurants are embracing smaller menu trends. Fewer menu items remove the complexity of fast food operations while increasing the speed of service.

Quick service restaurants are tailoring the number of menu choices—especially as pop-up restaurants become more commonplace. Pop-up restaurants typically feature unique options that differ from the local scene. Try a prix fixe menu or a flat ticket price in between locations. This method tests the success of meal pricing options.

Going Off Menu to Drive Customer Loyalty

It may feel counter-intuitive to hide away some of your menu options. However, put yourself in the place of a customer who has never visited your site before. One who is seeking a single, specific piece of information.

Would you rather try to select from a list of every single page available on the site? Or navigate your way to your destination by making a series of simpler choices from short, clearly labeled menus?

It may not be jam that you’re selling, but the same logic applies:  tame your menu, and your customers are more likely to actually make a choice instead of giving up and walking away.

Perhaps the biggest advocate for off menu items are these fast food giants. Brace yourself for these secret items.

Water Proof and Food Proof Your Menus

Greet guests with menus that are food and water proof. Menus printed on polypaper make keeping menus clean and dry easy.


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