Menus made easier

One of the toughest tasks small restaurants handle is producing professional-looking menus in print and online, but MustHaveMenus helps automate that process.

Typos are the bane of my existence, so I always feel a tremendous amount of empathy whenever I see an error on a restaurant menu in my small New Jersey town or on the list of services posted in a local business. 

Enter MustHaveMenus, a service that was specifically created to help owners and managers manage and automate this process, with a particular focus on keeping printed versions and Web site editions synchronized.

It does this by offering more than 3,000 different menu templates that restaurants can use to upload their content and then archive it for updates as necessary. No more starting over from scratch any time a new menu is needed. 

"We want to come in and make what they are doing today easier, faster and cheaper," said Jim Williams, CEO of the company, which hails from Ashland, Ore. His team must be doing something right, more than 30,000 independent restaurants have already signed up to use it, which is almost twice the number it had about two months ago when I first connected with the company.

Initially, MustHaveMenus left out the printing step of the process and let restaurant produce files that they can take to a local printer. But in June, the company announced a relationship with a printing services company, so that part is handled, too. Pricing starts at $24.95 for 25 copies of a single-sided menu. The company is also beta-testing a synchonization service that automatically updates information in multiple places, as appropriate. So, if a restaurant manager makes a change to one, the information is automatically reflected on the restaurant's Facebook page and on its Web site.

So far, the company has stayed away from adding online ordering capabilities, which is the focus of a partnership between SinglePlatform and GrubHub .

"It's a matter of looking and listening to where the demand is coming from," Williams said. "We don't want to be a point solution, a business that will come in and provide an answer for just one problem. This will be the foundation for marketing, transactions and so on."

And even though the focus is restaurants, Williams said that other sorts of small businesses, such as salons and doctor's offices, have been using the templates to share information about their own services menus.

Jager Tavern and Grill, a new restaurant in the Sarasota, Fla., area, that features dishes that use Jagermeister as a foundation for the sauces has been using the service since it opened this spring. (A sample of its menu appears at the bottom of this post.)

Cliff Boltwood, one of the co-owners, said the service has helped take at least one time-consuming task off the hands of the restaurant's managers.

"It is a pretty massive menu for a sports bar, and we anticipate quarterly or seasonal updates," he said.  

One reason that Jager Tavern opted for the MustHaveMenus approach is that it already has a very active Facebook presence -- it acquired more than 1,000 followers before its opening, because of the local marketing buzz that built up around its menu concept. Apparently, lots of people are enthusiastic about Jagermeister in their food.

Being able to update the restaurant's menu information quickly and easily is also a major consideration as it plans to launch its Web site, Boltwood said.