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Menu Engineering 101

Engineer Your Menu for Maximum Profits

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The menu is the most powerful tool for marketing a restaurant. However, many restaurant owners design and plan their menu solely from an appearance and functional perspective. Menu Engineering is an effective approach for making your menu profitable. It deals with arranging the items on the menu so they align with consumer psychology and purchasing habits. Menu engineering helps restaurant owners put their best products in the most eye-catching and visible places on their menu.

Aim the spotlight on key items

Start with a tour through your menu and select your spotlight dishes. To engineer your menu for maximum profits, ask yourself these questions.

  • What's the current trend? If gluten-free food is the current trend, introduce gluten-free items in your menu, like in the footer of this simple Fine Dining Menu.
  • Which seasonal hits make sense? Highlight dishes made with local, seasonal produce. For example, sell root vegetable dishes in winter and garden-fresh salads in summer.
  • What's prime for the holidays? One of the best ways to increase profitability is to introduce holiday-inspired dishes during their appropriate seasons. People can't resist turkey & stuffing in the fall, and pumpkin pie surges in popularity.
  • What's your famous recipe? Set yourself apart from others by focusing on your signature dishes, placing them in prime spots. People will come in, looking for them—finding them on your menu should be easy.
  • What are your customer favorites? You know which dishes sell best…the ones that would be dangerous to change. Identify them in a way that lets new diners choose them with confidence.
  • What's in inventory? Efficient inventory handling is important for your bottom line. So you'll want to promote—in an appealing way—items that need to move out the door.

Engineer your menu layout

Intelligent menu engineering is also dependent on a savvy layout. Think over these tried and true techniques.

Technique #1 - Consumer Psychology. According to research, most people will first look at the menu's top right corner so this is a great place to list your most popular items. Next, their eyes will drift down to the menu's middle section so this is where you should place your expensive items. Check out this Diner Menu that's well designed with consumer psychology in mind.

Technique #2 - Item Organization and Order. One common method is to categorize dishes in the order that people eat them: Breakfast, Starters, Salads/Soups, Lunch, Dinner. Daily specials, dessert and wines deserve separate menus. Other organizing principles include by ingredient ('chicken dishes'), by cooking style ('from the grill'), or by region (for ethnic cuisine).

Avoid listing your items according to prices. Within each section, you want your moderately priced items in the center, and don't end the column with your most expensive item. Your second-highest priced item should be the best seller.

Technique #3 - Highlighting. The next step in the process is highlighting menu items that deserve extra attention, customer favorites or your up-and-coming stars. Use eye-catching graphics for "Chef's Special" or "New" items. Special call outs, boxes, borders and other graphics are also great strategies for showcasing your best dishes.

Technique #4 - Color Scheme. The color scheme of your menu should reflect the theme of your restaurant and your brand. For an elegant French Restaurant Menu, try a muted theme or classic black and white. But choose brighter colors for a Mexican Menu. Which colors make sense with your theme?

Write descriptions that create desire

Tempt your customers with enticing, mouthwatering descriptions that convince them to order. It's important to strike a balance—they should be not too long, not too brief. See our “Restaurant Menu Writing Tips” article for more advice. Don't forget to mention allergens in dishes. See this Guide to Menu Writing Success.

Engineer a smart pricing strategy

Before you price your dishes, consider staffing, kitchen and operational costs. A la carte items should be priced in such a way that customers will be encouraged to order sides such as salads, soups or desserts. This American Family Menu is a perfect example of effective pricing. Consider introducing a Happy Hour menu as an effective way to promote profitability. See this Guide to Menu Pricing.

Designing a well-engineered restaurant menu does require some time and effort but it pays off in higher profits, happier customers and a more successful business.

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