The Report

Startup helps restaurants streamline online menu management

Posting in Design

With MustHaveMenus, restaurant owners can update and share information with potential diners far more efficiently and cost-effectively.

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The energy-intensive job of owning and managing a restaurant is a labor of love, born of an inspired idea centered on food. Administrative tasks aren't always a priority, so it shouldn’t surprise patrons when they hunt for a menu online and find something outdated, blurry or incomplete -- if they find anything at all.

And yet, many potential diners expect restaurants to have an online presence, where they can peruse the fare before they go. This expectation is facilitated by apps like Yelp! and UrbanSpoon (among many), which help disseminate about local restaurants.

Enter MustHaveMenus, which aims to empower restaurants nationwide to more efficiently share their menus and to streamline management of their online marketing and social media presence -- all for $15 a month.

“MustHaveMenus allows restaurants to do many things with their menus in one place that used to require lots of different steps,” says MustHaveMenus CEO Jim Williams. “Our vision for the company is to make menu management a concept, something it hasn’t been in the past.”

Restaurant owners face many challenges when it comes to creating menus, both technologically and financially. Typically, the process involves coordinating a designer, a Web programmer, printing and social experts. Now, planning can be carried easily over to the digital realm relatively effortlessly.

The idea behind MustHaveMenus, based in Ashland, Ore., is that it’s not just customers who can go online and easily get what they need. The service allows restaurant managers to design the whole suite of menus, design and print all other materials, and do online marketing.

“The need is clear for restaurants,” Williams says. “It’s hard to make time for these things because they’re so busy already.”

He’s right about the need, seeing as MustHaveMenus already has more than 15,000 restaurants signed up, ranging from small family-owned businesses to big food service companies. With a simple search, you can find MustHaveMenus menus on clients’ official Web sites. On Facebook, you can check out which restaurants use the service thanks to a little red icon with the logo, as well as the menu posted to the wall, often with daily specials updated.

“Instead of having to plan a menu change weeks out to accommodate the busy schedule of our advertising contact,” says Adam Lampinstein, co-owner of RIPE Eatery in El Paso, Texas, “I can jump on the computer [from anywhere] and update things 24 hours a day. If prices unexpectedly rise or we are unable to get a product for an extended period of time, we can adjust the menu as we see fit.”

Next up, MustHaveMenus plans to launch a Web search service akin to MenuPages, which will help optimize the Web presence and search results for restaurants using its core menu-planning service.

“You can find menus almost everywhere online right now, but the truth of the matter is most of the time it’s not the restaurant managing it,” Williams says. “Photos are decades-old, menus aren’t managed. All of ours will be directly prompted by the restaurant. You can’t get any more accurate than if it’s the chef typing it in.”

Image: George Doyle/Photos.com

Beth Carter

Contributing Editor

Beth Carter is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has worked for Catalyst magazine, the New York Times Syndicate, BBC Travel and Wired. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure