Canadian Pizza Magazine

Features Business and Operations Marketing
Marketing insights: December 2012

Menus that make money


Saving money is a noble goal, but it also implies that you’re actually making money in the first place. Restaurants typically run on thin margins as it is. Looking for ways to increase profitability can be a challenge. Your greatest weapon in the war for profitability lies within the corners of your menu. Part seductress, part educational tool, your menu – and its design, engineering and promotion – can make all the difference.

Saving money is a noble goal, but it also implies that you’re actually
making money in the first place. Restaurants typically run on thin
margins as it is. Looking for ways to increase profitability can be a
challenge. Your greatest weapon in the war for profitability lies within
the corners of your menu. Part seductress, part educational tool, your
menu – and its design, engineering and promotion – can make all the
difference.

Your menu’s first job is to entice and intercept
customers. It should be posted on your website and, ideally, displayed
near the entrance to your restaurant. If you offer dietary
accommodations and vegetarian dishes, don’t keep them a secret.
Approximately two to five per cent of Canadians actually have a food
allergy or intolerance, but anywhere between seven and 20 per cent
believe they do (according to Health Canada and Portsmouth University).
If just one person in a group of four diners vetoes your menu because
they think you won’t accommodate their restrictions, you’ll likely lose
the reservation for the whole group. Mention accommodations and
vegetarian options on your online menu, because as people are planning
their dining experience, they’ll be less likely to eliminate you from
their list if they know what you have to meet their needs. Chances are
the vegetarian option is attractively priced, so having it there
provides a loss leader item that gives the impression of a value-priced
option.

Menu design is a contentious issue within psychological
circles, as many experts have differing opinions as to how a menu is
read and what gets noticed first. A Cornell Hospitality School study
looked at communication of prices on menus and how they impacted
customer purchasing behaviour. The menus tested expressed the prices
three different ways. Prices were shown written with decimals and dollar
signs, written out in words and written as numbers with no decimals or
dollar signs (numerical only). “Contrary to expectations, guests given
the numeral-only menu spent significantly more than those who received a
menu with prices showing a dollar sign or those whose menus had prices
written out in words,” the study reported.

Menu content should pull
its weight financially as well. Pizza is traditionally known to possess
an attractive margin, so make sure that you have a few versions
displayed prominently and that your servers are actively promoting it
tableside. Side orders that allow customers to “add on” will increase
cheque average. Including some text with recommendations for wine,
dessert and coffee pairings with each entrée will help to stimulate
sales in those profitable segments. If you find that you’re losing sales
because lots of customers are sharing main courses and appetizers, find
out if the issue is related to the cost of the food or the amount of
food.

Many people are simply choosing to eat less. As a population ages,
people tend to select smaller portion sizes, so it may turn out that
you can maintain your revenue and margin by simply creating a small
flight of a salad, side and main for a profitable price point. If you
market the flight as being lighter and less filling, you’ll likely have
no problem getting people to order the entrée. If an entrée commands a
higher price point because the ingredients and preparation process are
more involved, allude to this on your menu in the item’s description.
Free range, organic protein or exotic cheeses can and should command a
higher price, and many people are fine with paying it. You just need to
ensure that difference is explained either in your menu copy or by your
serving team.

A beautiful menu on premium paper will convey a more
upscale image, but you don’t have to break the bank. Look at how you can
print a robust inventory of blank menus so you can print new ones in
house as you make changes. Don’t pre-print more than you need – you
don’t need to leave them on the tables; they can be handed to the
customer as they are seated. Your goal should be to ensure that your
menus are “stolen” as they then become marketing pieces to remind your
guests about the wonderful meal they’ve just had, or to allow them to
show their friends and talk about your restaurant. Put a little effort
and investment into having them professionally designed to be beautiful,
and you’ll likely find they tend to go home with the customer. If your
menus are too expensive to produce to let walk out the door, have a
take-away piece created for people to have, or consider revising your
menu so you can let it leave. Marketing pieces that can play both inside
and outside of your business are much more effective.


Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.


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