Client: Ramen Misoya in 3 locations (Mt Prospect, IL; downtown Chicago, IL; and Santa Clara, CA)
Goal: Create new restaurant menus for all 3 locations to incorporate completely new photography and price changes
Tools: pen and paper, bamboo cutting board, light reflector, Canon EOS 7D, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Acrobat Pro,
Duration: 4 months
Ramen Misoya is a Japanese-headquartered ramen restaurant with locations all over the world. The Downtown Chicago branch newly opened in late 2015, running a more simplified menu compared to its neighboring, very popular location in Mt Prospect, attracting ramen lovers from all around the Chicagoland area with its authentic Japanese miso ramen. It was now early-2017, almost 1.5 years after the Downtown Chicago branch's opening, and the menu was slowly growing to include additional appetizers, a new alcohol menu, and now, different misos, additional toppings, and new ramen bowls.
For this case study, I will be focusing on the menus delivered for the Downtown Chicago location.
I had completed table board menus, appetizer menu sheets, and a seasonal cold ramen menu for this client before. My new project now was to create new menu books to account for the miso type and ramen bowl changes by providing original photography and print menu design services.
Previous appetizer menu sheets and table board menus were created in Microsoft PowerPoint. I improved these designs and created an additional summer seasonal ramen menu sheet for the restaurant. The client was able to see my design skills through these projects so I became their designer for the bigger menu book redesign project.
CLIENT'S PROBLEM: The client wanted a new menu to reflect the miso and bowl changes to its customers. The original designer of the current menu was located far away in Japan and occupied with other projects, and the client needed a more efficient way to get new menus created without the longer wait times for the other designer to get back to them from another time zone.
PROBLEM REFRAME: I saw this as an opportunity to do more than a simple plug and chug of the new item pictures, so I looked at this menu redesign project from a user experience design perspective by reframing the project goals to provide additional value to the client.
The larger business goals of the restaurant were to:
- make more profit by
- selling more of high-profit margin items
- decreasing cost, which could be partially measured by worker productivity and loss through mistake orders
- increasing table turnover with shorter wait times and efficient ordering process
- improving customer satisfaction with better tasting foods and dining experience
With this in mind, I figured out how the current menu was affecting the business in achieving these goals, and then I came up ideas on how to make the new menu address these business goals better.
The purpose of a menu is that it's the primary piece of material for the restaurant to communicate its offerings to its customers. Is the current menu doing this well, and how so?
Images of previous restaurant menu:
I started by observing the ordering process between customers and servers through my own account as a server at the restaurant, and then I asked other servers at the restaurant about what questions customers ask them the most often. I chose to interview them because they were the people who had the most knowledge of the restaurant's offerings and the customer's familiarity with them since they are the primary stakeholders who interact with customers. I did not get a chance to interview customers about their experiences with the menu, but I did ask others to simulate the ordering process on the menu with me so I could observe how the menu was or was not giving them the information they were looking for easily.
I made a list of questions that customers posed the most often, because these questions indicated the kind of information that was not offered clearly or not offered at all through the menu.
From observing customers and servers during the ordering process when they used the menu, I came up with a list of questions that customers were asking the most often.
- Customers do not understand the difference between similar but different menu items.
- gold miso vs silver miso
- spicy tonkotsu vs non spicy tonkotsu
- tonkotsu vs other ramen miso bases
- Customers do not know what items are
- What is cha-shu?
- What is tonkotsu?
- What kind of noodles do you use?
By asking broad questions initially, and depending on what respondents answered, I would dive into 'why' a few times up to the extent of the respondents' understanding of the question 'why' to get down to the real problems of the current menu.
- What is not working so well with the current menu?
- Customers don't understand the difference between gold and silver miso.
- Why do customers not understand the difference between gold and silver miso?
- The explanation of the differences between gold and silver miso are in the menu, but they are on a different page than the actual ramens. This is confusing, so most people go straight to the pages with the ramen pictures in them, entirely skipping the part where the miso difference is explained.
- Why do customers skip that page where the miso differences are stated?
- The wording is vague. For example, customers ask, 'what do natural and fruty' mean? (Not a typo -- actual menu says that.) Also, it looks like a title page so customers do not think it holds any importance.
Most customers flip directly to this page to look at what type of ramen to order:
I discovered that the menu was not presenting information well, so the primary goal in the new menu design was to organize the information well and present it in a clear manner while confining to the original menu structure that the client wanted to maintain, which was the menu's current layout and page structure.
To determine whether the new menu was presenting information better, my goal was to reduce the amount of time it took for customers to place an order after receiving a menu, and reduce the amount of questions customers asked the servers regarding information in the menu. Reducing these times would in turn support the bigger business goal of making more profit by increasing table turnover, and improving customer experience. I also had the goal of improving menu layout using color, typography, and heirarchy to support the business goal of decreasing cost by creating less order confusion, and selling more of the high-profit margin items.
Through observational research, interviews with 5 different servers, and 3 simulations with 'customers', I found that the new menu had to incorporate a design that ultimately solved this problem:
- Decrease customer ordering time
- Organize information effectively in a way that the customer understands by using typography, color, and spacing of graphic and textual elements.
- Present relevant information that customer is looking for based on questions most frequently asked during the research phase.
Between this, I also had to ensure I was meeting the client's goal of simply creating a new menu that maintained the current menu structure, add original photography, and change prices for the necessary items.
With this information, I determined how the pages would be laid out in an order that would flow for the customer from start to beginning as if they were flipping through the menu book page by page. I used standard menu design practices as well as more specific layout structure based on what client wanted to maintain from previous design.
Client wanted these specific pages in the new menu book.
I brainstormed different layouts for these pages.
I sketched sample page layouts for ramen pages based on previous menu design.
I experimented with different ramen page layouts to see if I could use another layout besides the original one. I chose the new layouts based on what other US-based Ramen Misoya menus looked like, as well as menus from other ramen restaurants with a similar range of menu content.
Text is the focal point of other Ramen Misoya location menus.
I kept a Pinterest board for menu design inspiration and menu design psychology.
I decided to stick with the original one because the alternative page layouts would make font (ramen title and descriptions) become the focal point of the menu, which would make customers spend more time reading the menus, and thus encourage customers to spend more time on the text part, and overall prolonging the ordering process.
An image-focused page layout makes it easier for customers to see what each item is, and only look to the less-important wording when they needed more information. This saves the overall amount of time customers would spend with the menu before ordering.
After I figured out the general layout of each page, I asked the client to provide me with all the items they would need changed/added to each page. The client only wanted to change the miso names, the ramen ingredients, and item photos. I was familiar with the menu already, so I did most of the work in writing out the descriptions and let the client confirm them instead of asking them for a full list.
I showed a prototype to the client and asked for their confirmation of all the items. Were all the ingredients correctly stated? Were the prices correct? Did I include all the items they wanted to add on to the new menu?
I wanted this confirmation to occur earlier in the design process to minimize errors later on, which would require more time and work to fix.
After the client confirmed everything, I went into InDesign and started placing object placeholders on the pages of the menu book file that I would be delivering. I typed out the items, prices, and descriptions, and left rectangle boxes for where photos would be inserted later. I did not pay attention to spacing and just roughly placed objects in the area they needed to be in.
I started on InDesign because the client was not ready for the photography stage yet, as they were waiting for the new bowls to arrive from California to be used in the new menu photos.
Before the bowls arrived, I made a list of every picture that I would need to take. The list was made with the goal of minimizing food waste throughout the photography process.
The new ramen bowls arrived about 2 weeks before the final project delivery date, so I got started with scheduling photoshoots for each location. I provided a list to each restaurant about what to expect on photoshoot day and the materials they would need to prepare for me beforehand.
Photos for the menus were acquired over the span of 3 different photoshoots over a 1-week period. I edited the photos in Photoshop for clarity and removed the backgrounds for a plain white background. Throughout this process, I learned how to use the Action key in Photoshop to speed up the editing process, how to stage the food items with a high-contrast background so that the background is easier to remove in Photoshop later on, and improved organization of photography files into original, full-size edited, full-size background removed, and resized final photos.
I now had 1 week to deliver the final menu design, incorporating time for client feedback in between.
I created a structured print of the menu for the client and requested their feedback on photos, overall look, pricing confirmation, name confirmation, and item confirmation before I got into the design details of the menu pages including font sizes, border colors, and photo sizes.
I took their feedback into consideration and created new designs based on that feedback. We did this a few times until the client was pleased with the outcome. I also looked over the design myself to see how the information could be presented more clearly from a designer's perspective so that customers could more easily access the information they were looking for from the menu. Throughout this process, I also asked servers for their feedback and changed the design based on that feedback.
There were a few instances where I pushed back on the client's feedback in structuring the page layouts because there was a different way of doing the same thing that would allow the restaurant to communicate the same information more effectively and be easier for customers to read.
For example, the client wanted to price gluten-free noodles as a substituted item for $1 if the customer was getting a ramen already, and $4 if the customer was ordering extra of that gluten-free noodle, and they wanted this text to be large so they could sell more of the gluten-free noodles, which were a new item. The copy the client provided was lengthy and would not have fit well on the Vegetarian page. I convinced the client to shorten this copy and keep the font size smaller than they wanted it to be so that customer could see this information easier -- and thus be more likely to opt in for that item.
As a courtesy, I also created a corresponding carry-out menu for the restaurant to reflect the menu updates in a similar style.
Old carry-out menu:
New carry-out menu:
The carry-out menus were something the restaurant printed out on an as-needed basis, so I wanted to create something that is not ink-heavy but still visually illustrated to the customers the different types of ramen that the restaurant offered. To do this, I included the most popular ramen in each category based on restaurant sales, organized each section into its own space with simple sans-serif typography, and made room for short descriptions of each ramen type so customers wouldn't ask the servers as many questions, which made ordering quicker and more efficient.
I noticed that after the new menu book rolled out, customers were no longer asking the questions as they had asked before. Ordering time decreased drastically -- by more than 50%, from an average of 7 minutes to 3 minutes -- as the new menu answered questions that the customers didn't need to know more about from the servers.
I had successfully delivered to the client what they had wanted in the new menus: new photography and changing miso names, reflecting new toppings and price changes. I had also redesigned the menu in a way that would allow customers to more easily access the information they needed from a menu.
Exceptions: There are still some customers who will still ask 'how spicy is medium spicy' even though it says 'medium' spicy on the menu, simply because 'medium spicy' is subjective. There are also a few customers who will not even read the miso descriptions or menu item ingredients and prefer to ask the server those questions instead.
The number of customers who ask these questions are few, and here are some reasons why they might still be asking those questions:
- Font color may be difficult to read (white with black outline) so customers just entirely skip it
- 'Medium' as a word by itself may not help people who understand spice levels with a picture, and 'medium' is still subjective even then.
- People don't like to read menus and prefer to get more personalized answers from personally speaking with servers.
- "The ramen in the picture looks really good!"
- "The information is so well organized, it's really easy to find what I'm looking for.
- "People don't ask about what the difference is between gold and silver miso anymore!"
- "It looks a lot better than the previous menu, visually, and I like how there are no typos."
I would have liked to test my different prototypes with others instead of only getting direct feedback from the client and asking other servers for feedback. I would have gotten a better understanding of how much time exactly the new menus saved by measuring how long it took customers to accomplish a specific given task. I had a lot of fun doing this project because I took initiative to offer these services to the client and I was able to help them accomplish more goals that also affected the bottom line by creating new menus from a user-centered perspective. I also would have liked to follow through with the client throughout the printing process as the menus ended up being printed in a smaller size instead of their actual size, which resulted in a white border on the pages. The paper the client ended up using was also a thin, white paper, which made the primarily-white pages feel rather empty and sterile, so I created a new design to account for future menu printouts the client would need that had more color on them.