Control What Your Customers Choose With Menu Engineering

Menu engineering is part art and part psychology. Knowing where people actually look when they open a menu is essential to knowing where you will put your high profit or signature items. Knowing what people look for and what they shy away from is all part of menu design or menu engineering. It is basically a four step process that every restaurant owner should do to maximize profits from their menu.

The first step in the menu engineering process is to do an accurate costing of every menu item.  If you have not done this step then you may be in for a shock. Sometimes restaurateurs have omitted this step or have not kept up with rising prices and find out that they are losing money with every sale of a particular menu item. So take the time to completely cost out everything so that you can mark them up accordingly.

Step two is to put each menu item into the usual categories, appetizer, entrée, dessert and beverages. Use a simple spreadsheet to help you organize these items into subcategories. For example under Entrees you would include Beef, Chicken, Fish and Vegetarian Entrees. Using sales data from the previous month(s) you will subcategorize these items, by popularity, into one of four classes. They are Top Sellers, Core Items, Specials (Tests) and Slow Movers.

Step three is where you actually design your menu. Does some research about menu design because this is where the psychology and menu engineering come together. There is a lot of information about menu design but here are a few of the most common tips.

Use graphics, boxes or photos to highlight the menu items that you want to promote, just don’t overdo it. Too many graphics and your menu looks like a used car lot full of distractions and clutter. Try to incorporate the price at the end of the item description, using a smaller font and without the dollar ($) sign. In a study by The Center for Hospitality Research, Cornell University, they found that “guests given the numeral-only menu spent significantly more than those who received a menu with prices showing a dollar sign or those whose menus had prices written out in words.”

Keep your category lists short. Menu lists longer than seven or eight items tend to confuse the customer and can lead to a decrease your check averages. Save important menu descriptions for higher priced items or specials that you want to promote. Other menu engineering considerations are exact location of menu items on the page and number of pages. A two page menu is optimal with the prime location the top or top right of the page being the first glanced spot.

Step four is to test, test and test. If you have the ability to reprint menus with little cost and track your results you can find the hot spot and best sellers on your menu.

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