Restaurant menus, tricks of the trade

If the restaurant owner/manager is doing their job correctly, the menu will be the heart of the business. Although many restaurant owners don’t pay much attention to their menus, menu engineering can yield greater profits.

“It embodies the restaurant’s demographics, concept, physical factors and personality. It’s a sales vehicle, and many restaurants, smart ones, use it to get you to eat right. And we’re not talking about your health, but about their profits.”

Being a business owner and proponent of free markets, I don’t feel there is anything wrong with business making a buck. However, consumers need to be aware that health is not a concern when selling items on a menu.

Marlys Harris reports for Yahoo Finance that menu dishes are normally divided up into 4 dishes, and clever menu engineering steers you to the most profitable items coupled with enjoying the meal. This makes sense considering business thrives on repeat business and referrals.

The following are seven ploys used in restaurant menus.

The first in show: Testing has shown that if you decide on a dish like chicken, you are most likely to choose the first item under the chicken heading. If a menu is engineered correctly, the most profitable items always appear first.

Menu Siberia: Dishes that require expensive ingredients and are labor intensive, which makes them less profitable, are usually placed in harder to find places.

Visual aids: People tend to order dishes that have boxes around them or pictures of the dish. So, If restaurants want to promote profitable dishes like chicken wings, photos definitely help.

Package deals: You walk into an establishment with the intention of getting a cheese burger and a medium drink, but leave paying a few bucks extra for the package deal that includes fries and a large drink. Getting a large percentage of customers to pay to shell out a few extra bucks for package deals translates to bigger profits.

Dollar-sign avoidance: Getting rid of dollar signs and decimals makes spending less threatening.

Small plate-large plate conundrum: A restaurant may offer two sizes of the same dish, but the price difference is almost pure profit.

Ingredient embroidery: The more special each ingredient sounds the better it sells. Just because it’s labeled “Grandma’s Three Cheese Mac and Cheese” will sell better than just plain mac and cheese.


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