Canadian Pizza Magazine

Is your menu a moneymaker?

Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Getting customers in the door is just half the battle to higher cheque
averages and frequent return guests.  When it comes to increasing your
sales, your menu is a critical marketing tool because it’s what patrons
use to make purchase decisions.

Getting customers in the door is just half the battle to higher cheque averages and frequent return guests.  When it comes to increasing your sales, your menu is a critical marketing tool because it’s what patrons use to make purchase decisions. From its layout to its copywriting, your menu is one of the most cost-effective, yet powerful, weapons in your sales arsenal.

The term menu engineering refers to the process of designing and then monitoring a menu’s success. That success is measured by a menu’s ability to encourage customers to buy those items you want them to choose over less profitable or less strategically important items. Menu engineering requires you to wear your psychology, accounting and marketing hats because great menus rely on a combination of these disciplines to hit the mark. The best place to start is with a structural plan.

We’ve all gone to restaurants with epic menus roughly the length of War and Peace. One wonders if perhaps too many choices is a bad thing for business. Geoff Wilson and Andrew Waddington of fsStrategy, president and vice-president respectively, specialize in helping restaurants engineer high-impact, effective menus. 


“Length of the menu depends on the operation. If turns are key to an operation’s success then it’s best to make the menu brief but in an upscale situation where the customers take more time, a more detailed menu works well to enhance that experience,”  says Waddington.

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While colour psychologists will pontificate for hours about how reds increase energy and blues are calming, fsStrategy advocates choosing colours that match your brand with print that’s easy to read. Try to avoid reverse type (white letters on a colour) and while 3-D effects may be trendy in Hollywood, using a 3-D font will make it much more difficult for your customers to read and decide quickly. The layout should follow a logical flow with a sequential arrangement, such as appetizers, soups and salads, main entrées, desserts and beverages. Have sections clearly identified by using bold headings and larger fonts. Remember, customers won’t read your menu like a novel. They’ll scan it, so those items at the top or bottom of a list or those featuring unique fonts or shaded boxes will stand out. This is the prime real estate on your menu so play it up well.

FsStrategy advises restaurants to use these prime spots on their menus to highlight those items that are more profitable. You may offer a slice of cheesecake for $3.95 and a slice of cheesecake with a drizzle of chocolate, whipped cream and a few raspberries for $5.95. The incremental food cost for the dressed slice is minimal but the margin significant. This is the item that should get star billing on your menu.

Your signature items should also be highlighted separately, notes Diane Chiasson of Chiasson Consultants Inc. She says it is best to place them in a separate box and use a different colour. Your inner accountant needs to be unleashed here so you can calculate which items are the most profitable. It’s simply a case of margin multiplied by velocity. If it’s profitable and popular, showcase it the best you can. Those items that are less profitable and popular are likely candidates for discontinuation. If, however, those lower profit and least popular items have a strategic purpose, then you may wish to give them a stay of execution. An example of such a purpose would be an appetizer that is spicy or salty, which in turn stimulates sales of high-margin beverages. The placement of the price on the menu has a huge impact too. It’s common for restaurants to put their prices at the end of the dish title in a column one above the other.  This strategy can be a negative because it encourages people to shop by price and they often choose the cheapest. Consider placing the price after the dish description using the same font.  Using this format, the customer is able to take in the information about the dish and choose an item based on how enticing they find it rather than by price. Rather than list dishes in order of price, list them in order of how profitable they are to you, from most profitable to least in each grouping, advises Chiasson.

Avoid becoming emotionally attached to menu items because they are old family favourites or are fun to make. If the item isn’t pulling its weight, you’re best to free up that space for something more effective.

Give special menu items extra attention when it comes writing the descriptions. There are certain key words and phrases that can be very effective in swaying a customer’s decision one way or another. Take a cue from wine labels and their tasting notes. Words like juicy, sweet and refreshing (especially appealing on hot days) will enhance the culinary seduction. Being specific about the cooking methods adds to the descriptive appeal for the customer but also gives them information that may be important to their health. Words like caramelized, sautéed, barbecued and roasted will pique their interest. Origin is a key trend right now, so highlight that the cheese is from Quebec, the wine from the Okanagan and the bread from the local baker. FsStrategy stresses that authenticity is imperative to a menu’s effectiveness as a sales tool. 

“Truth in menus is really important,” says Wilson. “If something is promoted as being prepared a certain way on the menu and it isn’t, that’s a big deal.”

It might be tempting to rely on the serving staff to describe the dishes to customers or to provide details surrounding ingredients or cooking methods but that may not be the best bang for your buck. If the menu does its job properly, then customers should be choosing items that they’re excited to try and that are good for your pocketbook. Instead of answering questions about the menu, servers can focus on value-added offerings such as recommending wine pairings or perhaps specific points regarding the menu descriptions. Keep a watchful eye on your menu for items that aren’t as popular as they once were.  Food is subject to trends, so make sure your menu doesn’t become outdated.

A well-crafted menu is one that works hard for you. If a restaurant has 100,000 customers a year and is able to increase the cheque average of half of them by just 20 cents, it will contribute $10,000 more to its bottom line. That’s a very sweet return for relatively little cost.•

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