If menus could think I would say 98% of them are experiencing an existential crisis on a regular basis. Why? Because most menus don’t serve a greater purpose beyond being a piece of paper (or now, a pdf forced into a website) with a bunch of gobbledy-gook words. We must give our menus a greater purpose; after all, damn near every guest that sets foot in your establishment is going to interact with the menu in some way, shape or form. How do you achieve this purpose? Through menu engineering.

Menu engineering is the practice of using science-backed methods to design, organize, and otherwise construct a menu to achieve revenue, profit, and cost goals in your establishment.

When engineering a menu, I’m not building the actual dishes and cocktails for you; that’s why you hired chefs and bartenders. I am, however, taking those offerings and conveying them in a revenue-positive manner. At the end of the day, your menu should not only represent your company through brand standards and voice, but it should also consider the dollars behind each dish and the goals of the restaurant/bar as a whole. There are four factors every operator should keep in mind when engineering a menu: pricing, placement, design, and behavior.

Pricing Strategies

Pricing strategies go beyond your standard industry mark-up or cost percent. When pricing a menu, the competition, the value of the product to the end consumer, profits, and cost should all be considered. Further, a pricing strategy doesn’t (shouldn’t) be a blanket formula utilized across the entire menu. It should vary based on the product type, menu section, and restaurant revenue/profit goals.

Placement Strategies

Placement is just that, strategically placing menu items to take advantage of the natural pattern in which people read menus. Studies have researched the various patterns in which the eye travels around a menu, and sections it tends to focus on. This applies to both physical and digital menus. One of the most read sections of a menus is the top; use this sweet spot to your advantage by placing either high-profit items or items you want to push to positively impact your revenue and bottom line.

Congruently, we can use the above two strategies in conjunction with one another to generate an even more profound method to achieve our goals. We can change value perception by strategically placing a more expensive item next to the item we want to push. This is a tool retail stores often utilize, and it works just as well when applied to a menu.

Design Strategies

Great design utilizes visual elements to emphasize or de-emphasize products. Call-out boxes and starbursts are a common design strategy that typically yield positive results. More so than price and placement, design needs to follow brand standards to create a cohesive presentation. A word of caution — use design strategies sparingly. Too many callouts create a scenario where they are no longer call-outs. They end up becoming ‘regular’ menu items.

Behavior Strategies

Within this bucket I use a variety of researched ‘User Experience Laws’ to assist the menu viewer. Hick’s Law, for example, states that the more choices, and more complex options you present to your readers, the longer it will take them to reach a decision. This seems like common sense, but it often gets overlooked. Additionally, adding photos has been proven to increase a guest’s likeliness to order (view Iowa State University’s study here). You may not have space on a menu for photos, but if you’re running a promo, I highly suggest a professional photoshoot and marketing collateral to really sell that item(s).

The above gives you a small snapshot of the opportunities in which you can actively increase your sales using your most valuable marketing tool…your menu. You can explore more about menu strategies through an actual case study.

As the age-old saying goes “work smarter, not harder.” You can effortlessly achieve revenue goals by utilizing the menu to your advantage. Give your menu a purpose. Allow it to serve you and your team – I promise you won’t regret it.

Need help with your menu? We’re here whether you need a few tweaks, a complete re-do, or a brand new menu for your opening restaurant or bar.

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