Re-inventing the restaurant menu for the 21st century.
Myself (Co-founder and UX designer)
Raviraj Minawala (Co-founder and app developer)
Duration - 2.5 years (10.2016 - 03.2019)
Platform - iOS and Android
User base - 25 restaurants and around 1000 diners
A visual and digital restaurant menu platform that allows diners to decipher dishes using high quality visuals along with contextual menu data. With an integrated in-restaurant ordering system, the user can discover, decide, order and pay on-table from a single app.
While dining out at a restaurant and deciding what to eat — I came across many dishes on the menu that I had never heard of or tried before. So, I began to read the dish descriptions to better understand them and at the same time trying to visualise them in my mind. That’s when I realised that if only there was a picture to better communicate the dish it would make it a lot easier for diners like me to try new dishes or cuisines.
Traditional paper menus have been around for over a hundred years with virtually no significant changes. They are as outdated as the newspaper. But our world is more dynamic, visual and technologically paced than ever. We deserve a radical shift in the way we understand food. Just think of all the times when you have read something on the menu and you had to google the name or the ingredient to really know what it is. With the ever-changing food world, it is hard to keep up with gastronomical innovations and trends. Now we have access to more cuisines, unknown cuisines. But the medium…in this case the paper menu has stayed the same.
How might we improve the guest’s dining experience through a digital menu?
- Background research
- User research
- Low and high fidelity prototype
- Verifying design through user testing
In order for the digital menus to be more user centric and more helpful with decision making than the previous paper menus, we needed to first understand the problems currently faced by the diners, identify the needs of the diners and then design solutions that can deliver an enhanced dinning experience. To begin with: the first thing required was to empathise with diners who happen to be the core users. What were the problems and issues they face while dining out at restaurants in regards to the menus from which they make decisions. As well as identifying their needs while they decide what to eat at a restaurant. Carrying out secondary research revealed some interesting insights relevant to dining out. A survey conducted by Harris Poll in 2016 on behalf of Open Table (an online restaurant- reservation service company) found out how diners feel about restaurant menus. The survey included more than 2,000 U.S. diners, aged 18 and older.
An overwhelming majority of diners (91%) say they are more likely to order a dish they’re not familiar with if it has additional menu features to add explanation and context to the dish.
Unfamiliar ingredients - 56% of diners are concerned that ordering a menu item made with an unfamiliar ingredient will ruin their dining experience, and 74% feel they will be wasting their money if they don't enjoy their meal. 43% of diners said description of ingredients or a glossary of menu terminology (30%) would make them more likely to order an unfamiliar dish.
A picture is worth a thousand words - More than half (53%) of the diners said photos of the menu items would make them more likely to order a dish they are unfamiliar with.
Pronunciation - The vast majority of diners (88%) have come across a menu item they couldn’t pronounce at some point. Most of them rely on their server or fellow diners to help when ordering, either taking a stab at pronunciation (53%), asking the waiter (52%), or pointing at the item on the menu (47%).
Furthermore, while conducting primary research through interviews some more user needs were uncovered. Such as the need for nutrition and allergy information of the food in the menu since now a lot of diners are health conscious so they prefer to know the nutritional values of the food they are about to order. The ability to translate language was another need mentioned by diners who frequently travelled to foreign countries either for work or holidays. There was also a keen interest in on-table ordering function which allows the users to directly place their order thought the digital menu on their smartphone rather than waiting for the server to take the order.
So while analysing this survey two things were apparent, first the diners are hesitant to try meals that are unfamiliar to them or has an unknown ingredient this is because the paper menus usually have very little information and no visual guidance for diners to make better informed decisions. Second due to such issues diners feel that additional menu features like dish photos and glossary or menu terminology can help them better decide and make them more likely to order a dish they are not familiar with.
Therefore, while designing the product these things were kept in mind to develop potential solutions that can address the diner's needs. Hence, the potential solution for digital menu was one that has both, pictures of the dish and ingredient descriptions.
Based on the research and insights, we used the Sketch app to design the initial mobile product. The solution was to build native iOS and Android apps that diners could download and explore restaurant menus in-depth. Apart from the user side apps, it was also necessary to create a way for restaurants to get onboard and create or update their digital menus. These apps were also designed from scratch and dubbed as ‘dishnary manager’.
Low Fidelity Wireframes
High Fidelity Prototype
Testing and Iteration
After carrying out user testing and gathering feedback, we made multiple design changes to the apps in order to improve the user experience and meet the user's needs.
Some minor changes included a re-designed menu structure which implemented endless scrolling capability. Previously, the menus were divided into categories where the user had to manually switch categories (e.g. switch to desserts from main dishes) by navigating back to menu categories. This created more friction and moving back and forth for the user. With unified and endless scrolling, the user could just keep swiping while automatically switching between menu categories.
The switching between menu categories was initially designed to be instant without any transition or visual feedback to communicate the process of switching. This caused confusion since users tried to re-click in order to switch the menu category thinking it hasn't changed while it already had. Therefore a transition effect was added to the switching of menu categories to give users a feedback of the process completed.
The food and drinks were previously combined into the same menu which required the users to scroll much more than necessary since there were too many categories within the menu. This also overloaded the cognitive memory of the user when they had to search or find something particular from the menu categories as there were too many options to choose from. As a result we later decided to separate the food and drinks into two separate menus that can be easily switched by a click.
Although it initially seemed like a downloadable app was the best way in terms of platform discoverability — it had its own challenges. For example, when a guest visits a restaurant without any prior knowledge of the digital menu, they need to be informed about it using in-restaurant marketing techniques such as table-tents with download links and setup guides. More importantly, while you are dining out — you wouldn’t want to take the effort to download an entirely new app just to see the digital version of the menu. Getting a user to adopt a new app is not easy—you’ve got to give them a solid reason to go to the app store and make that download. The point specifically being that a guest might expect full service from the restaurant-side — if a restaurant offers a digital menu, they should provide the guest whatever the new technology is — especially in full-service fine dine restaurants. However, the guest should also have the flexility to see the menu on their own device if they would like to.
This stimulated a need for an alternative option for guests to browse the digital menu. The most natural way to enable this was tablet devices that a restaurant could offer its guests.
Additionally, since we introduced the tablet menu option — we observed how restaurants and guests used this new system using in-restaurant observations, interviews with restaurant staff and tools such as Firebase Analytics. We encountered some problems with the tablet menus. We found that guests accidentally exited the tablet menu app and reached the Android home-screen since the system back button allowed them to do so. We quickly fixed this by adding a 4-digit PIN lock that the restaurant can set. Now when the guest tried to tap the back button multiple times — it blocks them from exiting the app and asks for a PIN that only the restaurant knows.
Offering guests with tablet-based menus worked really well with restaurants with limited seating capacity and a higher budget to invest in the devices. However, we quickly learned that this method has its own limitations. Think about large restaurants with more than 50 tables or casual restaurants where passing around tablets would not be the best idea. We had to think of a more inclusive and universal approach — something that has the personalised characteristic of apps and not requiring the effort to download a new app while dining out.
That's when we envisioned the use of QR codes and web app so that the guests could access a restaurant's digital menu without the need for a dedicated app or a tablet.
While designing the new feature of on-table ordering for the app we realised the issues we would face since this type of ordering through an app inside a restaurant was quite different from the food delivery apps. Since, in this scenario the user which happens to be the diner at the restaurant orders not just once but multiple times throughout their meal, so the app had to be designed in a way that it allows for reordering and adds up all the orders in the end. As there was no payment method incorporated in the app we had to make sure no-one misuses the ordering system by sending in fake orders to the kitchen which would disturb the restaurant's operations. Therefore, we designed a way to authenticate the orders by unlocking the function through a 4 digit pin to enable on-table ordering. The pin can be provided by the restaurant staff or the server so they also get aware about the guests on that specific table. Additional customisation of the dish is also made possible through the slide-up menu which allows users to add or modify the ingredients.