How to Add Useful Options to the macOS Service Menu

By | December 24, 2021

If you don’t know about the service menu on your Mac or have been ignoring it so far, it’s time to change it up.

The service menu can be accessed by right-clicking on the selected element or via the menu bar at the top of your screen. This hides useful options that allow you to perform complex actions in one click (much like File Explorer’s right-click menu on Windows.)

What’s more, you can make the service menu more useful by easily adding custom actions to it! We’ll see how to do that shortly after taking a closer look at the menu.

Ready With Service Menu

To reveal the service menu for any app:

  • Click on the app name (next to the Apple logo) in the menu bar.
  • Select the Service item in the menu that appears.

In each app, the service menu gives you more options for tasks you perform by borrowing features from other apps.

For example, if you highlight a snippet of text in your browser, you may see options to look it up in the Dictionary app, have it read aloud, or create sticky notes from it. You can then perform these actions without leaving the current application.

This action also depends on the application on your Mac. If you have, say, Evernote installed, you’ll also see the option to add text snippets to Evernote.

Now, suppose you highlight someone’s name instead of a block of text. In this case, you can use the service menu to call the person on Skype or send them an SMS.

As you can see from the example above, the service menu is a contextual menu. This means that the content varies depending on the applications you view, the tasks you perform, and the applications you have installed on your Mac. Quite often, it is empty because there are no options relevant to the current task.

Also, if the app doesn’t work with the service, its service menu will remain permanently empty.

Enabling and Disabling Services

To control what is shown in your service menu, click Service Preferences from the Services menu in any application. This reveals the settings panel for the service. You can also access it via System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Services.

In the settings panel that appears, you will see a complete list of services with checkboxes next to them. Third-party apps that you have installed also add their own services to this list. Services appear in categories like Images, Text, Files and Folders, and so on, which makes it easy to find a specific service.

As you may have guessed, enabling and disabling services is a simple matter of checking and unchecking the relevant boxes in this list. If you mess up your selections and want to start over again, you can revert to the stock settings by clicking the Restore Defaults button.

Each service in the list lets you add the appropriate keyboard shortcut. That way, you don’t always have to go through the service menu to trigger your favorite service.

To create a shortcut for a service, click on the unread placeholder text next to the service in question. The text should then change to an Add Shortcut button. Click on it and then press the keyboard shortcut you want to use. It should assign a shortcut to the appropriate service.

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What Can You Add to the Service Menu?

The list of default services that appear in the settings panel is long and varied, but you can expand it in a number of ways:

Install Apps That Bring Useful Services

  • Dictater: Puts you in control of your Mac’s native text-to-speech function.
  • Markdown Service Tools: Makes writing Markdown on macOS easier, with options to convert from HTML to Markdown, clean up text, etc.
  • SearchLink: Allows you to create links for text after querying various sources, including Google.
  • Gladys: Gives you a drag-and-drop shelf to store text, images, emails, links, messages, and other content for quick access.

Create Automator Service

Automator, the built-in automation app on macOS, is quite versatile. It gives you many ways to simplify and speed up your workflow, and services are the kind of Automator workflow you can create. Consider these examples:

  • Document saver: Service for sending text of web pages to Apple Books
  • Word counter: Automator service that can give you the word count for selected text in seconds

For more ideas, you can browse the web for a useful list of Automator services to create.

When creating a service using pre-macOS Mojave written online tutorials, you should pay attention to several points:

Automator service workflows now have a new name: Quick Actions. As a result, you should select Quick Actions instead of Services as the document type when setting up the Automator workflow.

Ensure that the Workflow accept dropdown menu is currently set to the relevant input type for the service you are creating. That’s because it can revert to the default Automatic (None) by itself.

The service menu on macOS is easy to overlook because it’s tucked under the context menu and rarely seen. But once you take the time to explore these menus and set up a custom service that speeds up your workflow, you’re unlikely to forget it.

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