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Menu Engineering: How Psychology Increases Profits

Restaurant consultants spend a lot of time talking about the power of upselling and how to turn service teams into lean, mean selling machines. It’s true, front-of-house staff plays an integral role in how much money ultimately hits your till. Yet there’s another more static tool that’s far too often overlooked.

Your menu isn’t just an easy way to advertise your chef’s irresistible creations, it’s also a portal to boosted profits. Simple layout and content changes can generate major income, growing profits by more than 15%. All you have to do is learn how to engineer your menu using a winning combination of psychology and design.

Play Off Consumers’ Senses

Buttery. Smooth. Smoked. Seared until golden-brown. Perfectly fluffy. Just like Grandma’s. Menu descriptors that evoke nostalgia or stoke the senses are typically more appealing. When diners see “Sunday gravy,” they’re instantly reminded of those family dinners of yesteryear when everyone gathered around the table and broke bread.

Those types of triggers tickle something deep inside our brains. It makes the dish more memorable and improves the chances consumers will ultimately choose it.

Be Strategic About Placement

Most guests spend less than two minutes perusing your menu before they decide what to eat. That’s 60 seconds max that you have to influence that decision and steer diners toward the dishes you want them to choose.

We know people look at a menu in a certain pattern, often referred to as the “Golden Triangle.” They look a third of the way down the page, then to the upper-right-hand corner, and finally across to the left. Take advantage of that habit by stocking popular, but low-profit items, in the triangle and then boosting their prices.

Also consider general menu placement. Putting the highest-profit items at the top and the lowest-profit items at the bottom increases the likelihood customers will opt for the items with the biggest profit margin, which is a major win for you. You can even lead each segment with an expensive item to make the rest seem more affordable.

For example, your seafood section might look like this:

Fresh Butter-Poached Lobster With Saffron Risotto – 89
Miso-Rubbed Black Bass With Bok Choy and Forbidden Rice – 49
Tomato-Infused Cioppino With Caramelized Fennel – 42

Normally, a $42 or $49 entree might give guests a bit of sticker shock, but it almost feels like a bargain after seeing the $89 lobster.

Pare Down Your Menu

Have you ever gone to the grocery store for chips or cookies and felt so overwhelmed with choices that you left empty-handed? That’s exactly what happens to diners who are faced with an absolute novel of a menu. Page after page of appetizers, entrees, salads, soups, side dishes, specials, and combo plates doesn’t make guests happy, it makes them indecisive.

Concentrate on a smaller menu without any duds (or “dogs,” as we call low-profit, low-popularity items) and make it easier for guests to quickly and confidently pick something tasty.

Ditch the Dollar Signs

Pop quiz! Which of the following formatting options will result in the largest checks?

  1. Chicken Alfredo – $19
  2. Chicken Alfredo – $18.99
  3. Chicken Alfredo – $18.97
  1. Chicken Alfredo – 19

They’re all essentially the same price, but experts believe skipping the dollar sign forces customers to focus on food rather than money. Go with option “D,” keep numerals the same font and size as the dish’s name, and let psychology get to work.

Learn How to Incorporate Eye Magnets

Eye magnets are design elements that act like a silent “look here!” They draw consumer attention to whatever it is you’re trying to highlight:

  • Color
  • Unique or larger fonts
  • Photos
  • Graphics and drawings
  • Negative space (also known as “white space”)
  • Call-out boxes

The key is to use a splash of color here and there without turning your menu into an abstract painting and capitalizing on call-out boxes only when there’s a menu item truly worth highlighting. Eye magnets only work when they’re used sparingly.You don’t want an overabundance of psychology-inspired gimmicks to cheapen your menu or restaurant.

Perhaps the most important tip is to remember that your menu is never finished. As food costs shift, guests’ palates evolve, and new dishes make their way toward the dining room, give your menu another look and see if it’s time for more improvements. By testing and tweaking regularly, you’re helping to ensuremenu selection never gets stale. This alsoprotects your bottom line in the process.

We invite you to view the accompanying infographic for even more insights on effective menu creation.

Infographic provided by Restohub

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