It may seem like once you have customers in the door of your restaurant, the hard part is over. Now it’s just a matter of great service and tasty food, and you’re already a pro at that.
But there is a huge opportunity to increase profits with the clever use of your menu.
Consider your menu a map. You want to guide your customers to where you want them to go.
With some simple layout and content updates, you can increase your overall profitability—even if you don’t bring in a single additional customer.
This is something you should focus on before you spend money on marketing or come up with brilliant restaurant promotion ideas. After all, everyone who comes in to eat is going to see your menu, and thoughtful menu design can increase profits by as much as 15 percent.
So grab a menu and settle in to learn three simple ways you can improve your profitability without losing quality or jacking prices.
You may have spent hours lovingly creating your menu, making sure that each description is a work of art. But your guests won’t spend nearly as much time perusing and appreciating your menu as you might think.
In fact, guests spend an average of just 109 seconds with their eyes on restaurant menus. So it’s vital to make each one of those seconds count.
Customers often order one of the first items they see. So make sure to draw their attention to your most profitable items.
To do this, put a decorative box or border around these menu items.
You could also leave extra white space around them or make them a contrasting color. Any of these methods will pull in the customer’s gaze, and encourage them to order these items.
Make sure to use this method sparingly, or you’ll dilute its effectiveness. If everything is in a box, then nothing will stand out.
Another thing to consider is where you place these items on the menu.
Restaurant menu engineers will tell you to consider the “Golden Triangle” when planning your layout. The eye is first drawn to the center of a menu, before moving to the top right and then the top left.
Keep this in mind when setting up your menu. Include your highest-profit items in the top center to make sure they are seen first.
Pricing out your menu requires a little more than just calculating your food cost and dividing it by 30 percent to get a total.
There are a few pricing tips that you can use to increase customers’ overall spend.
There is psychology at work when a customer looks at a restaurant menu, even if they don’t know it.
The first price that a person sees will influence how they look at the rest of the menu.
This is called anchoring. People tend to rely on the first piece of information they receive when making a decision.
To use this to your advantage, add a more expensive item where they’ll see it early in their perusal of your menu. For example, you could include it at the top right, in the golden triangle.
By comparison, the rest of the dishes on the menu will look more affordable. While the guest will probably order a less expensive item, they may view their perceived savings as an excuse to order an appetizer or dessert.
Your customers are aware that in order to eat the food at your restaurant, they have to pay for it. But pricing is a pain point on your menu, so you’ll want to make sure it’s not a focal point.
Some things to avoid:
Dotted lines from the menu description over to the price lead the eye directly to that number. You don’t want to hide the price, but you don’t want to steer them to it either.
This is when the prices are all lined up in a neat row on the side of the menu. Price columns highlight pricing and make it too easy to scan for the least expensive item on the menu.
Customers know that 12 is the same as $12.00. Still, they don’t like to be reminded that they’re about to spend money.
In fact, one study showed that diners could spend as much as 8 percent more when there are no dollar signs on the menu.
Instead, use a method called “nesting” on your menu. Put the prices directly after the dish description.
This ensures customers aren’t confused, but makes it less likely that they’ll see the price before they decide what to order.
The Cheesecake Factory is famous for their massive menu. At 250 items on over 20 pages, they have something for absolutely everyone.
And it’s worked for them. They’ve positioned themselves as the restaurant with the world’s largest menu.
But that doesn’t mean it will work for you. Keep in mind that The Cheesecake Factory has been in business for more than 40 years, and their menu has grown over time.
Servers have two weeks of classroom time to learn that menu, and chefs have to train for three to four weeks. That is a lot of training and a lot of labor costs.
For most restaurants, the trend is in the other direction. Focus on what your customers love, and drop the dead weight.
Some of the benefits of a simple menu?
Customers want to find something that looks tasty so they can place their order. They don’t want to spend 20 minutes reading a novel-sized menu as they get hungrier and hungrier.
A good rule of thumb is the Rule of 7. Try to keep menu options to no more than seven per category.
That means seven appetizers, seven entrees, seven desserts—or less. People can keep track of seven options much more easily than 20.
A menu with 50 entrees will require a huge inventory that must be managed. Each dish will require a variety of different ingredients, ranging from protein and veggies to herbs and spices.
That means more time will be needed for ordering, tracking, and doing inventory each month. And more time means a higher labor budget for you.
Plus, more menu items require more training.
This may not seem like too big of an expense when you think of one chef. But when you consider the dozens or even hundreds of chefs that may work for you over the life of your restaurant, those extra training hours will really add up.
By keeping the menu limited, all of this “behind-the-scenes” kitchen labor can be kept to a reasonable minimum, leaving more cash in your coffers.
If I want a pizza, I’m not going to think of the restaurant that serves 17 different dishes, including pizza. I’m going to think of the place that sells pizzas—the place that is marketed as a pizzeria.
A smaller, more focused menu allows you to position yourself as the expert at one or two things, rather than a dabbler in many.
Between 2013 and 2017, restaurant chains that added more menu items increased same-store sales by 1.7 percent. Over that same time, chains that removed menu items increased same-store sales by 3.3 percent.
Company-wide, that difference added up to 75 percent more growth for restaurants that decreased menu options.
Your menu is a living, breathing document that can (and should) be updated regularly.
Don’t start from scratch. But do have regular reviews with your team to discuss sales and look at your product mix.
If something that used to sell well has dropped off suddenly, consider moving it to more desirable menu real estate.
But a prime location may not help certain dishes.
Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings, as they say in the literary world.
Just because a dish is your favorite doesn’t mean it should stay on the menu if it’s not pulling its weight. A highly profitable item doesn’t do you much good if no one is ordering it.
When it’s time for a menu reprint, make sure to dig into what’s selling and what isn’t. Experiment with placement, pricing, and length to maximize sales of your most profitable items.
So when are you going to schedule your next menu review?
Adam Guild is a top expert on restaurant marketing. He is also the CEO of Placepull: a technology company that helps restaurants increase revenue by an average of over $207,000 per location using search.