They are called upon multiple times every day, yet few people stop to consider their importance. Menu boards provide all types of businesses a simple way to describe, price and sell their services. Especially in a time when many businesses are looking to cut labor dependence, menus will always play a huge role in selling and communicating with customers. Of course, restaurants and other service businesses depend on clear and efficient listings, but menus are also hugely important for successful carwashes.

Because of the menu’s prime role and the many factors that can affect its sales and performance, a new carwash owner should be prepared to work through the process of developing a new menu. First, operators should ask: What exactly makes a great carwash menu great? Though there are many important factors, the baseline is that the best menus educate customers while also driving sales for the most expensive wash packages and upsells.

As experienced owners have learned, perfecting each location’s carwash menu is both science and art. The menu must clearly display pricing and services, but it must also include enough information so that customers know what is included with each package. Further, menus have the added duty of driving higher ticket prices and promoting add-on services that are priced clearly. Thankfully, many experts have solved the carwash menu puzzle and are ready to share what they have learned.

Carwash menu formulation

Jason Sears, communications manager with Innovative Control Systems (ICS), confirms that designing a great carwash menu is part science and part art. To be effective, menus must take into account the science-based nuances of human perception. This includes important factors such as customers reading menus top to bottom and left to right. Further, customers generally prefer large sizing versus small due to most people’s competitive nature. Finally, people will respond more favorably to bright colors than dull or darker colors.

Related: Infographic: Four pitfalls of carwash menus

Once the scientific aspects of the carwash menu’s design are attended to, it’s time to start selling. Sears states that the most profitable wash package should be located at the top of the menu and given the most physical space relative to lower packages. Next, this package should be highlighted in the most vibrant color. Here, the creation becomes an exercise in art due to mixing in design elements that further support a wash’s overall brand and creatively communicating the value that the services provide.

“We have all seen examples of great carwash menus, and when executed properly, they can make a difference,” Sears says.

Bobby Jones, art director – TSS Inc., emphasizes the importance of menu content. “Most writers are familiar with the phrase ‘content is king,’ and the same holds true with the menu,” he explains. “Show the content of each wash package so that your customers know what the value of each wash is.”

Service transparency is crucial in menu listings, as it will show which package is ideal for a specific customer’s needs. Jones gives the example of a customer who is particular about the vehicle’s rims and tires. Transparency will allow him or her to identify which package would best suit the wheels’ needs. This idea can carry over to other examples like paint protectant and waxing. If a menu visually shows the customers the products, they can identify the package they want and quickly complete a sale.

Driving service sales

Once an owner has achieved the proper carwash menu design, it will act as an unpaid employee, according to Jones. Though new owners have invested time and money in creating and purchasing the menu, it will begin to pay for itself and more. In fact, the menu will be a wash’s best salesperson because it promotes the most profitable wash offerings. Also, it will further entice customers by reminding them of the importance of maintaining their vehicles’ exteriors.

In addition, new operators should consider purchasing more signage that reinforces the services on the menu. Only so much can fit on a menu before a customer becomes overwhelmed with choices. Thus, it is imperative to reinforce the upsell items with support signage leading up to the menu. Jones notes that this is best achieved visually via signs that stand out and are visible to the customer. For instance, he says, “Showing the effects of salt on a vehicle in the winter will more likely cause a customer to upgrade to the salt buster package or add it as an upsell.”

Related: Order up: A carwash menu can stir up profits

“The best carwash menu designs alert the customer to a need that they weren’t even aware of when they drove onto your carwash site,” Sears reveals. “Effectively communicating the many services that today’s high-tech carwashes can offer, many of which might be unknown to the average customer, will drive add-on sales and have a positive impact on overall profitability.” To this end, new owners should look for the cool and profitable features that many in the industry may take for granted and merchandise these unique services to every customer.

According to Jones, the typical services listed on a menu range from various types of wax and foaming products to pre-soak, tire products, rinse and sealer products. A novel way some owners are dealing with the “boring” perception of the standard carwash products is to give them a little life with creative marketing.

A simple rinse item may not seem appealing to many, but when an owner ties it to something local in a wash market, giving it a unique name like “Peach River Falls” and adding an LED light bar on the water tray to enhance the service, customers will perceive more value than in a common service.

Making the menu

Once the menu lineup is decided on, it is time to create the actual menu. Jones states that local sign companies can greatly vary in their customer base. Therefore, many are not as knowledgeable about specific industries, particularly the carwash industry in this situation. Thus, specialized suppliers are more apt to have a finger on the pulse of the industry. Also, they will have years of expertise on what works and what doesn’t work in the carwash industry.

The recent surge in owners switching to a monthly unlimited plan is a good example, Jones notes. A new owner would want to work with someone who has already had menu creation success in this area. This company would be more helpful in implementing a switch than would a local sign company with no experience in promoting monthly carwash memberships.

Sears agrees that selecting a service provider from this industry will ensure that an operator has an experienced partner. A provider with carwash experience will understand the importance of an effective carwash menu design and will deliver the best results.

For proper menu placement, Jones states that if a wash has automated pay stations, the menu should be placed before the approach to the payment station. If customers pay an employee, the menu should be placed towards the entrance where the employees stand.

Another important aspect of menu placement is thinking about the proper location during busy weekends. Place the menu near the area where vehicles will stack in a queue, and make sure it can be clearly seen as people wait for their washes, Jones recommends. This is an excellent opportunity to sell services and products if the menu is visible to waiting customers.

Sears reminds new owners that it is important for menus and automated payment stations to work together. While menu boards and payment stations use different formats, each is intended to accomplish the same purpose. Both must communicate the value of the carwash’s offerings.

As such, the menu and payment station selections should be designed, and placed on-site, to complement each other.

What’s in a name?

To help drive a location’s branding, Jones shares that it is important to give each package a unique name. “This is an opportunity to make your wash stand out from the generic competition up the block,” he explains. “If you have unique and fun package names tied to a theme or a local reference, it will help your wash stand out in a saturated market.”

Sears believes that unique package names can help new carwash owners develop their brand as well. “In a bland world of small, medium and large, it pays dividends to offer your customers something unique, something memorable and something that keeps them coming back again and again.”

Sears gives an example: Which would most customers prefer, the “Deluxe” wash or “The Big Dipper” carwash?

Communicating changes

For new operators changing menus at an existing wash, Sears notes that it is wise to use a multi-media approach to ensure that a customer base is fully notified of menu changes, new options, etc. A menu upgrade plan that includes the payment terminal, on-site signage, new messaging on the wash’s website, updates on the preferred social media platform and an advertisement in a local newspaper is sure to cover the diverse media formats used by today’s customer base.

Jones says that updates made with menu add-ons and supportive marketing materials can make the menu change in pricing easier on customers. “By pairing with an added value in the package, the customer will believe they are getting more for their money and not see it as a price increase for the owner,” he concludes.


Charles Brady is a freelance contributor.