Believe it or not, the menu is often the most overlooked marketing piece in the restaurant industry. Many establishments give little thought to how their menu’s design can influence diners and sales. If you’re a restaurant owner who is simply listing their dishes and corresponding prices and calling it a day, yet struggling to increase restaurant profits, then you may want to consider looking into menu engineering services.
Simply put, menu engineering is the art and science of designing a menu in a way that maximizes a restaurant’s profits. Many restaurants that hire a menu engineer can expect to see profits jump by 10-15% or more. But menu engineering is much more than creating a menu that is enticing to the customer’s eye, with mouth watering images and descriptions of your dishes. It actually starts with the food itself, as in the specific ingredients that go into making each dish, and the food cost percentages.
What Is Menu Costing?
This first step in the menu engineering process is called costing your menu, and it’s unavoidable if you want to boost your bottom line. Costing a menu determines, right down to the penny, how much it costs to create each dish your establishment offers, excluding labor costs.
Once a menu engineer has food costs figures they can now categorize your menu items by their profitability and popularity. Typically, your items will fall into one of four categories: stars, plow horses, puzzles, and dogs. Your stars are the items that are the most popular with your patrons and the most profitable for you; plow horses are cheap to make but ones that your diners love; puzzles are the dishes that would bring you high profitability, if only your customers would order them more often; and dogs are in the lowest category — not very popular and not profitable.
Next comes the fun part which is coming up with menu designs that help to highlight your profitable items. There are many tested and proven (and often subtle) layout techniques that can be implemented to make your menu shine and influence customers to spend more or order your most profitable dishes. Dishes can be highlighted with graphics, by calling it out with a box, and/or including a photograph. In fact, it’s been determined that one well-placed, quality photograph on a menu page will increase the sales of that dish by 30%. Photographs, however, should be used carefully depending upon the selling price range and type of restaurant; very high-end establishments avoid using them altogether because they tend to cheapen their brand.
The engineering process will also take many other factors into consideration when creating the most profitable version of your menu and improving your bottom line. These include whether your menu should consist of one or two panels and a customer’s eye movement pattern when viewing a panel. Small details, such as not listing the dollar sign or the word dollar when listing prices, can help your customers avoid thinking directly about how much money they’re spending.
A dish’s description can obviously also help sell it; depending upon your brand and target clientele, a menu engineer can write item descriptions that humanize your restaurant and help them taste the food before they even order it.
Once all design elements have been examined and taken into consideration, the new menu will be tested. Additional changes may be implemented before testing again. Sometimes a restaurant will rehire a menu engineer to fine tune the menu and squeeze additional gross profit out of it. The same strategies used for the restaurant’s in-house menu can also be applied to your online version as well.
So show your restaurant’s menu a little love, and in return you’re likely to attract higher profits for years to come.