Car Wash Menu Dos and Don'ts with Expert Graphic Designer Erica Brown

Jun 15, 2017 at 3:07 PM

Erica Brown copy-446318-edited.pngWhether you know it or not, your menu is one of the hardest-working employees you have. Your menu is responsible for engaging every customer, showcasing your brand, and explaining the value of your product offerings to your customers. Since your menu is working so hard, you want to make sure that you have the best menu possible. We sat down with Zep Vehicle Care's expert graphic designer Erica Brown to pick her brain on effective car wash menu design.

How many menus do you design a month?

Erica: On average, I design between 50 and 75 menus a month. Our entire customer marketing team designs between 400-500 menus and other merchandising items a month.

What things should I always include in my car wash menu?

Erica: If your wash has a loyalty program, such as a monthly unlimited club, advertise it on your menu! Show the value of your program compared to purchasing single washes. If a single wash is $10, but you can get unlimited washes for $25 a month, it makes sense for anyone who feels they will wash their car more than twice a month to consider going with that option. If your wash is using recognized consumer brands for your products, make sure customers know it. Just like the majority of people will choose Kraft® mac and cheese over generic mac and cheese, your customers will see the value of going with a brand they trust when it comes to the care of their vehicle.

What things should I avoid on my car wash menu?

Erica: Simple is better. Avoid excess information that may not be relevant to your customers. For example, even if your wash uses a high pH and a low pH presoak (and it is an important detail to you since you are in the industry), that doesn't mean your customers will know or care about the difference. If you do want to list each product used in detail, try a "plus" style menu to minimize the amount of information on your sign. List the items in a basic wash, then in the next package, leave those items out and replace with "includes the basic wash". This style of menu helps to easily show what value you are getting with each package upgrade.

Also, avoid being like everyone else. I like to focus on how design can be used to set your wash apart from the wash down the street. That means that instead of going with a menu that looks exactly the same as everyone else, try something different! Go with a unique design that will make your wash look different from  others in your area. But, make sure you keep your design and colors consistent with any other signage you have on site for cohesive site branding. A well-branded and cohesively designed wash site will give a better impression of consistency and quality, and therefore appeal to more customers than one lacking signage and feeling scattered, inconsistent, and unorganized.

[Click to read more in Boost Your Revenue Today: The Essential Guide to Making More Money at Your Wash]

What are the most common mistakes you see on menus?

Erica: The number one, all-time most common mistake I see on menus is that they are too busy! The most effective menus get rid of the clutter and draw the eye straight to the package you want them to purchase. The average person is going to select a package within 3-8 seconds, which means you need to project a clear, concise, organized message that they can pick up on with just a glance. When the whole menu is bright and flashy, with every color of the rainbow, it can be overwhelming, which often leads to people choosing the cheapest package in their haste. Instead, choose a simple background for your menu, so the viewer's attention can be directed to the packages rather than the background. Go with a limited color palate, putting the brightest color on your top or "best" package. For your bottom or "basic" package, try and make it visually disappear into the background rather than stand out. This can be done with a number of different strategies, such as removing the outline or box around the package, or only listing the package name and price rather than including details or products or processes. 

Another common mistake is how packages are laid out on the menu. Because we are accustomed to reading starting at the top left, our eyes subconsciously follow the same pattern when looking at any sign, including a wash menu. Since the decision of which wash to purchase is made within seconds of looking at the menu, it makes sense that the package in the top left will have a higher rate of selection!

What other types of merchandising should I be aware of for my wash?

Erica: The sky is the limit when it comes to options for site merchandising. However, since many of these ideas can potentially be costly, I'll give you a couple of inexpensive ways to merchandise your site. 

Windmasters: These are 28" by 44" styrene (thin plastic) signs that go in a standing frame. Typically, the frames are double-sided. Purchasing a frame is the most expensive part, running approximately $125-$150, but the inserts can be printed for half of the price or less with the right vendor. And, these can easily be switched out as often as you would like – keeping the signage on your site fresh is important! Use these for your manager specials and seasonal offerings, to advertise the brands you use, your loyalty programs, or anything else you may need a sign for. 

Banners: Typically, banners can be printed inexpensively, and their large size can catch the attention of cars passing by from a distance. Use banners to advertise the brands you are using, your loyalty programs, or even the fact that you have a car wash in the area!

Antenna Signs: These are custom-cut signs, printed on coroplast (corrugated yard sign material) that slide on a frame with 2 thin “antennas” that fit into the corrugated center of the sign. The standard size for these are approximately 3’ x 5’, and their custom cut can make a nice impact for any message. 

Gate Signs: Also made out of coroplast and with a custom cut, these are perfect for any wash with a gate. Since they are typically located where customers make their purchase decision, they are perfect for trying to upsell at that last minute. These can be produced for as low as $55, depending on the size and vendor! Here is an example of a gate sign: 

Gate Sign[1].png


Drum Covers: Do you have ugly drums of chemical sitting around your wash? A nice vinyl cover with a custom design will help brighten up your site and is a great place for advertising!

Tunnel Fixtures: These tend to be more expensive, but colorful arches, backlit and/or flashing signs, or other tunnel fixtures in your wash offer customers a fun experience and validate their purchase. Other ways to create a positive experience for your customers are fragrances, colors, or light shows.

What menu design trends are you seeing in the industry?

Erica: As we are becoming more immersed in the age of technology, digital menus are becoming a hot trend. Whether you put your menus on a TV screen in your waiting room, a pay station screen by the wash entry, or on your website/social media page, digital menus are a great option. They allow for easy and cheap edits to packages or pricing, give your customer the chance to visit your website and see what you offer before they even arrive at your site, and is a great way to appeal to the younger generations. It also shows you are keeping up with the latest and greatest innovative solutions and trends!

Where can I find more information?

Erica: There are lots of articles in the Professional Carwashing and Detailing (PC&D) Magazine ( on effective menu design and site merchandising to raise your revenue!

You can also find more information on menu design, site merchandising, and package creation in our eBook Boost Your Revenue Today: The Essential Guide to Making More Money at Your Car Wash. Click below for your copy:

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