2009 September: Menu Magic

menu, design, diagramYour menu is the one piece of marketing your customers are guaranteed to read — at least to some degree. But its influence doesn’t stop with helping the diner make an ordering decision. The menu’s role is actually much greater — it directly impacts not only sales, but the entire ebb and fl ow of the restaurant, from the wait station to the kitchen.

In terms of branding the menu is a crucial component that solidifies a restaurant’s image. Simply put, it is your most effective and important sales tool. Your goal, when re-designing your menu, is also simple: to make it as profi table as possible. How? By engineering your menu to influence customers to order the dishes you want coming out of your kitchen most — the high-profit items that keep your business in the black.

In recent years, technology has allowed us to learn more about menu engineering and customer ordering habits than we’ve previously known. Lasers have been used to track the eye movements of test subjects perusing restaurant menus, and proven patterns have emerged. We now know
for certain what early menu specialists assumed — restaurant menus do in fact have hotspots.

Americans are notoriously anxious. We bore easily. Our attention spans are short. The diner that reads the entire menu, top to bottom, is the exception to the rule. In fact, studies indicate that the average diner spends less than two minutes considering the menu — which makes proper placement all the more important.

So, where are the aforementioned hotspots? The most prime real estate on your menu is in its center, to the right of the fold. From there, the top right corner and then top left corner are your most important spots. No. 4? Bottom left corner. About ¾ of the way down the far right side of the page is the fifth-most viewed spot, followed by the bottom right. Finally, the seventh most popular spot is back to the center, left of the fold, directly across from spot No. 1.

This is a tested, well-worn pattern, so don’t waste these hotspots on low profit items. Let your heavy hitters do the work for you by putting them where your customers are sure to find and order them.

It goes without saying that your most profitable entrees should fi ll that No. 1 spot in the right-center of your menu. Are your appetizers high-profit as well? Then put them in the No. 2 spot and fill the top left, where you typically find appetizers, with something else that makes sense, such as your most profitable salads.

Similarly, there’s a recognized pattern to your lists, as well. Let’s say you have seven appetizers. Don’t simply list them alphabetically, in ascending order by price or in the order of your personal favorites. Studies show that the top two and bottom two items in a list are the most ordered. Again, put your most profitable dishes in these spots. Naturally, placing a box around an item will draw attention to it, so long
as you don’t overdo it. Consider boxing three, no more than four, of your big money-makers and watch orders of these items increase.

Keep in mind that you can’t properly engineer your menu if you don’t know exactly what it costs you to make each and every item you offer. If you are just guessing which dishes are your most profitable — forget about it. You are taking a shot in the dark. It’s critical to weigh each and every recipe item and know the precise amounts of each ingredient used in every dish. Once you know what it costs you to make your items, you’ll not only know which ones should be prominently featured on your menu, but you’ll also know which dishes aren’t priced correctly for maximum profit. If you’ve based your prices of a competitors’ menu, as so many independent operators tend to do, then you’re in for a real eye-opener when you complete this critical process.

In the end, it’s about making the most money you can make off of each dish, and then highlighting your most effective dishes to ensure you have the highest check averages and profitability possible. There’s no better way to do this than by a well-designed, well planned menu. Don’t leave profits on the table. Get started today. 09.09.09

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