Should a Menu contain images?

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With image or without image? Should the menu in a restaurant contain images of the food they serves? Gordon Ramsay in one of his Kitchen Nightmare episode criticized a restaurant he revitalized for providing images of the food; he thinks it misleads, makes you look cheap, and prefer to steer clear of it.

Beside of the chance of getting sued if the image portrayed misleads customer from the appearance of the real food, good image costs; it requires seomewhere between a good artistic sense plus a pocket camera, up into a team consisting of a good food stylist and a food photographer with fancy stuffs -- which might not comes cheap.

Should you insist on doing it by yourself but without proper execution, and ends up with something mediocre, then instead of attracting it might steers away potential customers from stepping into your premise. Hence with using image on your menu, you might encounter more trouble than advantages. So then, is image really important? Is it worth to go through all the challenges in having good food photographs?

The answer is Yes and No! Here's why:

For some times, those who studies psychology discover that there are four different ways on how human mind processes information; Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic, hence why it is dubbed as "VARK". Related to this domain, they also discovers that for each human being there is naturally one dominant preference of information processing embedded into our system. And while it's true that someone can have multi preferences, usually there is one that is dominant.

So refering from customer experience point of view, Yes it's important! The availability of images in a restaurant's menu could significantly help those customers with Visual learning preference to get as much information about the food offered. These are the type of customers that relies on their visionary senses to capture and discern the qualities a food can potentially delivers.

Though you are still exposed to the risks of misleading your customers, a good and ethical food photography of a restaurant's cooking is a good asset: it looks good on the menu, and when displayed up front, or outside your restaurant, it acts as a modern day maneki neko, or "welcoming cat" that attract potential customers. This is related not just with the famous proverb that says "a picture speaks a thousand words", but since image is also easier to recognize from a distance, compared with texts, sounds, or smells.

A good food photography is also universal; it can be easily understandable by people from different or foreign origins. Some premises are taking this image providing thing even more seriously by providing the dummy version of their menus (usually made from wax and resin) and display them in a showcase with tilted stands.

However in some cases, No it's not (that) important! Especially to those that dominantly processes information by any other means; either by their hearing sense (listening to explanation or narration from the restaurant staffs), or by textual reference (reading the menu description).

Many good restaurants are able to attract their customers without providing even a single picture of their meal; this is what usually happens in a high-class or more classical themed restaurants. However it would require either a very good reputation, a highly famous status, a spreading delicious fragrant of what's cooking inside (KFC and J Co is famous for doing this), or by providing other point of interests that might attract customers in any other possible ways; e.g. create an open kitchen where the visitors could watch the happenings inside the kitchen and hopefully getting attracted to it, or displaying the live fishes in aquarium outside the restaurant.

However as you might have guessed, it's a good practice to combine several different elements to create the holistic effort to both inform and attracts customers to further engaged in the kind of experience a restaurant offers.

Hence without a doubt, the concern about using or not using images in a restaurant's menu or other informational vessels, should not be born out of what you think you want to do, but from what you think your customers would value, then you caters to that need.

Because if you focus on your customers' need to discern the information, then you're on the right path to create the good eating experience for them. (byms)