Menus That Talk uses show to be heard

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Menus That Talk, a Taylannas Inc. company, is a provider of handheld, audio-enabled menus. The devices, which are the size of a DVD case, "speak" a menu in the language a users selects and are also labeled in Braille. Susan Perry, president-CEO of Menus That Talk, got the idea for the device in 2006 after dining with her niece, who has macular degeneration and cannot read menus.

To get the word out about its prototype, Menus That Talk decided to exhibit at the National Restaurant Association's Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago last May. With the limited budget of a startup, the company's 10-foot-by-10-foot booth was its only marketing effort at the time. "Mediawise and marketingwise, a show is an incredible way to get the word out because you see many people in a concentrated time period," Perry said.

To publicize its presence at the NRA show, Menus That Talk sent out press releases to local media and contacted show management .

The company also placed a flier on every booth, Perry said, because other exhibitors can often end up being customers. In addition, Menus That Talk networked extensively, attending all show-related parties and talking to as many people as possible, Perry said.

In its messaging, Menus That Talk focused on how its menus could help restaurant owners reach their goals of improving efficiency, customer service and the bottom line—objectives that can be particularly challenging given current industry trends, Perry said. "Everybody's got staff concerns because there's a shortage of servers and other kinds of restaurant help," she said. "We tried to listen to those things, and then see if our product helped to resolve any of those issues."

For instance, the company highlighted how the devices can help time-crunched servers. "Seven percent of the U.S. population cannot read a menu for one reason or another," she said. "If you have to have your waiter standing there reading the menu, it's not as efficient."

In addition to helping it spread the word about the devices, the NRA show gave Menus That Talk an opportunity to gather feedback on its prototype. "We went back and retooled the prototype so that it was focused toward market needs," Perry said.

Based on booth visitors' comments, the company increased the menu's speaker volume, changed the device's look and tweaked LED service lights that notify the server when a user needs assistance.

The company's efforts garnered it the attention of several media outlets, including the Chicago Tribune and local TV stations. Menus That Talk got approximately 100 strong leads from the show, Perry said, and has signed contracts with about half of those. At this year's NRA show, in May, the company will upgrade to a bigger booth, Perry said.

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