How to Engineer Your Menu

Over the years I’ve seen hundreds of menus, both as a customer and an advisor, and here are 7 of my thoughts on how to engineer a menu, taken from what I have seen and read in my travels.

The idea is to engage customers to spend more, and on the dishes you choose, and believe it or not, these work!

  1. Look at your item positioning on your menu – there are places the customer’s eye goes to — so put your best stuff there.
  2. Similarly consider using some boxes to highlight high margin menu items in an attempt to improve sales.
  3. I don’t like the use of $ dollar signs. You want your customer to think about the dining experience, and not just the price of the item.
  4. Along the same lines, think about whether you want cents in your pricing, eg. $9.95. If you have a fast food restaurant or takeaway then it may be appropriate; showing cents makes the customer think more about the price. Fine if you’re selling Burgers, but perhaps not if you’re selling Lobster.
  5. I’ve always liked the number 9 (and studies back me up here). So I wouldn’t think about charging $20 for something, when I could just as easily charge $19 and increase the sales of the item … profit margin permitting.
  6. Another counter-intuitive way to make a menu seem more affordable is to put something very expensive on it. Yes. Really. It’s called comparative pricing, and good restaurants use this technique to maintain margins on their big sellers. For example, if they want their customers to buy the $29 Oysters, they put the item next to a Seafood Platter for $79. They don’t sell many of the platters, but they sell a lot of Oysters. The same thing can work for wine lists — but ensure you put some cheaper items near the top as you want your customer to find something they can afford, rather than nothing at all.
  7. Consider embedding your prices in the menu listing. Instead of:

Roast Chicken                                  23

Filet Mignon                                     32

Just move those numbers left:

Roast Chicken  23

Filet Mignon  32

The easier it is for your customer to make a decision, the less time they’ll spend on it and the less they’ll second guess their choice.

These are just my thoughts on some menu engineering techniques, but it should give you an idea or two.

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