Why Mobile Menus are Better for Customers than PDF Menus

Restaurant owners and managers do not often stop to think about the readability challenges and other frustrations that a PDF version of a menu brings to their guests, and the potential impact this can have on their business.

As many restaurants scramble to adapt to the need for digital menus for the safety of their guests, many restaurant owners and managers are turning to PDF menus. After all, this is the path of least resistance: in most cases, restaurants already have a PDF version of their menu that lives on their websites. However, in their haste to send their guests to their website, restaurant owners and managers do not stop to think about the challenges and frustrations that a PDF version of a menu brings to their guests, and the potential impact this can have on their business.

What Is a PDF?

In order to understand these challenges, it is first important to understand what a PDF actually is. PDF stands for Portable Document Format. It was developed by Adobe in the 1990s as a way to standardize the way that a digital version of a document looks, no matter what type of device is being used to view it. A PDF takes text, graphics, fonts, images and other information that was loaded and displayed separately and captures the way they are laid out on the page. This way, even if the person viewing the document doesn’t have access to the fonts that the creator had, or the images being displayed, they can always see the exact same document. It also guarantees that anyone who has the file can click print, and the document will come out of the printer looking exactly the same there too.

Why a PDF is a Bad Format for a Mobile Menu

A PDF sounds like a pretty cool tool to make sure that your menu looks exactly the same to everybody, but it does not work well for a mobile menu. Here are 3 reasons why:

Phones are Small Viewing Areas

In theory, it is really cool to be able to load the exact same menu on your phone as you might hand out in your restaurant. However, studies have shown that PDFs are ineffective for on-screen reading. A standard piece of paper is 8.5 inches wide and 11 inches tall, while a standard iPhone screen is only 3 inches wide and 7 inches tall. This means that a typical size print menu would have to be shrunken down nearly 66% in order to fit onto a screen. The size of printed lettering that is comfortably readable to the naked eye is generally in the range of 10 to 12 points, and this decrease is effectively shrinks the font size down to 3 or 4 points, which is too small to be comfortably legible. While it is possible to use your fingers to zoom in and out of images, the length of the descriptions of items on the menu require users to scroll from side to side, and it is easy to get lost on the page. Or if the menu is broken up into columns, it is easy to miss entire sections or even pages of the menu.

A menu that is optimized for viewing is designed to fit all of the information in the phone window in a size and that is comfortable to the eye. Similarly to how effectively designed websites convert to a more conducive layout when opened on a phone, a mobile menu adjusts the font sizes and the line lengths so that they can be read on the phone. Instead of having to navigate around by pinching and zooming and scrolling from side to side, a mobile-friendly menu needs only to be scrolled through vertically. Also, mobile friendly menus, like those made at MenuSavvy, allow menu sections to be collapsible, so viewers can easily see all the section headers of the menu, instead of scrolling endlessly to find what they are looking for, or potentially missing items that are found further down the menu.

Optimization for Individuals with Visual Impairment and Other Disabilities

While viewing a menu on a small screen may sound mostly like no more than a mild nuisance, it is actually a serious issue for people with disabilities. About 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Many individuals often have to rely on technology such as magnifiers and screen readers to help them to read documents. There are a number of steps that must be taken to turn a regular PDF into an accessible PDF. While it is possible to optimize a menu for reading by people with disabilities, it takes time and effort that many restaurant owners and managers do not have. With digital menus becoming the primary version of the menu for many restaurants who are moving away from physical menus, this must be prioritized from an accommodation standpoint, as well as from a legal compliance standpoint.

In contrast to a PDF, a mobile-friendly menu that lives on the web, such as a MenuSavvy menu, is able to accommodate these compliance issues and is much more accessible to individuals with disabilities. The size of the text can be adjusted, and screen readers can easily read items out loud, and even read the alternative text to the images.

Adjusting and Editing

PDF menus are not only sub-optimal for the customers at restaurants—they are also a major nuisance to restaurant owners and managers because of the time it takes to update them. Menus rapidly become outdated when an item is added or removed to the menu, or prices change, or a new seasonal menu or specials menu is released. Editing an existing PDF requires specialized software, such as Adobe Acrobat Pro, which costs approximately $180 per year, and that approach is only useful if the look and feel of the document is remaining exactly the same. If the menu needs to be redesigned from a visual standpoint to add new pages, images, colors, or sections, it requires either access and familiarity with Adobe InDesign, which costs approximately $240 per year, or access to a graphic designer, who charges hourly or by project for their work. Instead of paying for software or design experts, many restaurant owners and managers instead opt to try to make a menu themselves the cheap way, using Microsoft Word. The result is an unprofessional looking menu that underwhelms customers.

On the other hand, a mobile-friendly menu like those made by MenuSavvy can be edited and updated in minutes from any computer. Items can be added, deleted, or edited right within the browser, with no expensive software and no specialized skills needed. New menus can be assembled in minutes, and set to show and hide based on the time of day, day of the week, or time of year, if you wish. It is even possible to go into the menu and mark items as temporarily unavailable in real time if, for example, the keg kicks or the kitchen runs out of a key ingredient. 

MenuSavvy is a free platform that was created with your restaurant’s needs and your restaurant’s customer experience in mind. If you’re interested in joining and building your mobile-friendly menu for free, click here to get started.