HOW MENUS MAXIMIZE PROFITS

THE PSYCHOLOGY AND SCIENCE TO MENU ENGINEERING

Every restaurant, from fine-dining establishments to casual eateries, uses a menu to showcase its offerings. Often, before walking through the door, the menu can be a customer’s first impression of the food. Menus guide diners to discovery, and also play an important role in influencing orders. Savvy restaurateurs understand, and take advantage of this, to help increase the revenue potential of each and every guest.

START WITH STORYTELLING AND SIMPLICITY

Even before a server greets a table, it’s likely your guests have been introduced to your food through your menu. They’ve read the menu displayed on your window, and many times, found the menu online. It’s critical to use this as an opportunity to entice your diners and eliminate unnecessary confusion.

Use storytelling and ingredient descriptions on the menu to establish your food’s appeal, and your restaurant’s point of difference. Perhaps your restaurant’s cuisine is a modern take on traditional flavors. On the other hand, you may serve a traditional menu of family recipes passed down through multiple generations. Adding a narrative can authentically capture both the heritage and flavoring of what you serve, in a way that listing non-descript menu items and their price-points can’t. And your customers will savor this information before they even take their first bite.

While you and your chef may be familiar with your full menu, not every guest will be. Simple descriptions can help eliminate confusion, and minimize the questions a guest may have felt necessary to ask a server. And when a server can spend less time answering questions, they can spend more time selling your food and giving better attention and service as a whole. Showcase items in a concise yet desirable way. For example: Ceviche Mixto: mahi mahi, calamari, shrimp, tomatillo pico de gallo in a passion-fruit and serrano broth.

INFLUENCE DINING THROUGH EFFECTIVE GRAPHIC DESIGN

The best food may never be ordered without first leaping off the page of a menu. But, effective design, accessible language, clean graphics, and enticing photography are just the start to ensuring your menu is concise, easy to understand and visually appealing. Designing the perfect menu is as much an art as it is a science. And, there are several tricks the trade employs to earn more from their menus.

Research shows that customers have gazing patterns when reading a menu. For example, the eye is drawn to the top right corner, moves in a zigzag pattern across the page, and then tires around the center of the menu.  Place your most profitable items in the top right corner, and your highest profiting category centrally on the menu, to draw the diner’s eye and influence their ordering decision.

Gazing patterns also exist when customers read individual menu categories. Diners have a tendency to study the first and last items listed. So, mention your most profitable items within a category first and last to increase their likelihood and frequency of being ordered.

Visual cues are another way to grab your diners’ attention and influence their orders. Symbols and icons can pinpoint signature dishes, or help spicier items stand out. Many restaurateurs will even draw a box around a specialty item, or category, to dramatically capture a diner’s focus.

Some layout choices, however, can lead to lower profits. Ezra Eichelberger, an Instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, suggests avoiding the use of dollar symbols, or separating price-points within their own column.  Menus that ignore this subliminally influence diners to scan price points first, leading to decisions based on dollar spend and not deliciousness. And, make sure to price your items based on your competition and audience. Look to websites and competitor menus to compare format, price range and similarities between offerings.

LIMIT WHAT, WHERE AND WHEN ITEMS ARE MENTIONED

A mistake of many first-time restaurant owners can be offering too many things to too many people. This not only dilutes a restaurant’s image and brand, but also adds complexity and confusion to diners reading unnecessarily large menus. Before menu design, identify your most profitable and popular items, and weed out the items not selling as well—or at all. This will save you food costs, speed up kitchen efficiencies, and lead customers to faster decision-making.

Then, consider portioning a menu category for healthier and vegetarian options. According to a January 2014 study conducted by Health Focus International, 40% of consumers are health seekers when they go out to eat.  Additionally, the Office of Minority Health indicates Hispanics are 1.2 times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be obese, and because of this increased risk, Hispanics are also at a higher risk for obesity-related diseases such as diabetes.  Creating a “healthy” category helps health-focused diners make better decisions, with reason to return. And, can help Hispanic Mothers, or family-decision makers, easily identify and make better choices toward what their family and children are eating.

Daily, weekly, and even monthly specials can be a great way to showcase seasonal ingredients, or play off current food trends. When incorporating a specials menu, try printing it as a separate piece from your regular menu. This allows you more freedom and flexibility to change the menu as needed. For pricier items, keep them outside of the menu and have your servers suggest these specials in person. This approach will make for a more personal one-to-one sale that will help boost your profits.

Finally, delete desserts from your main menu, and share them separately toward the end of a meal. Often when desserts are listed on the main menu, diners will pass up an appetizer with intention to purchase dessert. However, many diners will reach satiety, and end up not ordering dessert after already having skipped the appetizer. Try creating an individual dessert and after-dinner beverage menu, or have servers showcase your dessert offerings in person with a roaming tray. Diners find it much harder to turn down a delicious dessert when it’s seen and smelled in person.

EDUCATE STAFF TO SUGGESTIVELY SELL

Even though menus do a lot to help customers make up their minds, in many cases it’s your servers closing the sale. Menus and servers must work side-by-side to raise the potential for an increased check size. Train staff to recommend house favorites and chef specialties, and ensure they are aware of the many nuances to each of your unique offerings. While staying true to authenticity, each chef prepares food differently. A well-educated server will be able to highlight portion size, preparation method, and other differentiators to help guests make their selection. More so, a server who suggestively sells can influence, indulge and entice your diners into trying new things and ordering more— a beverage instead of water, or an appetizer to start off their meal. Interaction and service like this not only increases guest averages, but also creates a memorable customer experience that can convert first-time guests into loyal patrons.


i Poundstone, William. Priceless: the Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It). England: Hill & Wang, 2011

ii Dan Gentile, “The 11 Untold Secrets of Menu Design,” Thrillist, July 9, 2014, accessed August 5, 2014, http://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/restaurant-menu-secrets-menu-design.

ii Katie Ayoub, “One Step Better for You,” Flavor & The Menu, 2014, accessed August 5, 2014, http://www.getflavor.com/one-step-better-for-you/

iiii U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Minority Health. Hispanics and Obesity, accessed August 22, 2014, http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlID=70