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Engineering Your Menu

The menu is often the first thing your customers see when they decide to eat at your restaurant, and sometimes might even be the thing that convinces them to come inside in the first place. But you’d be surprised how many restaurants spend little or no time on menu design, and as a result miss out on easy ways to help servers sell top menu items.

Some Menu Engineering Pointers

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  • Drop the dollar signs. Anyone who has sat in a restaurant trying to decide what to order is a liar if they tell you they don’t look at the price for help in making a decision. So, if every customer is going to be looking at that number beside menu items, you might as well make it as appealing as possible. A recent study by the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA) showed that menus without the symbol “$” or the word “dollars” saw an increase in sales of over 8% per person. That’s enough to make any restaurateur scrambling to get the white out!
  • In fact, deemphasize prices as much as you can. Another important tip is to place prices right next to the end of descriptions so that they blend in as opposed to setting them out all by themselves to the far right margin which just gets your customer thinking about how much it will cost rather than how good it will taste.
  • Strategically place best sellers and money makers. Customers scan lists of appetizers, entrees, and desserts in a predictable way. Naturally, they look at the top item first.  Maybe not so logically, they check out the very last item second.  Then a customer will usually go to the second item from the top, then second from bottom, until they get to the middle. Now that you know this, take the menu items of each category and split them up into groups:best sellers,high margin favorites, and then everything else. Place the items that fall into best seller and high margin groups in the prime locations at the top and bottom of your app, entrée and dessert lists. Place high margin items or categories in the top right of the menu and lower margin items in the lower left as well.  The customer’s eye will track to the upper right first, giving items placed there a much higher viewing percentage.
  • You can also promote new items and specials by highlighting them with a box or a “New!” graphic.  These simple visual tricks can increase sales of those items by as much as a third.
  • Train servers to back up your menu. You could have the best menu of all time and still go under in a hurry if your servers aren’t selling your menu. The trick is to get a good combination of menu engineering and servers who know what they’re doing.  Teach servers to helpfully suggest one of your top three most profitable items when customers ask. Have servers ask for upsells like side salads or a specific brand of alcohol instead of well.  Even a simple technique like using a pen to point to menu items the server is suggesting are proven to be very effective. The point is, give your servers a strategy, and strive to improve that strategy every day.
  • Get some help. For more menu engineering help, you might want to hire a consultant.  Many more factors should be taken into account when you are designing or redesigning your menu than those listed here. The most important of these is customer demographics.  A blue collar mom-and-pop diner probably shouldn’t print sleek menus with an art deco theme. Menu consultants specialize in taking the unique characteristics of your restaurant and using them to maximize sales through one of the primary tools at your disposal: your menu.

About Greg McGuire

Greg has blogged about the food service industry for years and has been published in industry magazines, like Independent Restaurateur and industry blogs like Restaurant SmartBrief. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two sons and enjoys reading, live music, and the great outdoors.

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