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Food Service

Menu Engineering for Increased Profits

Menu engineering is a data-driven approach to optimizing a food service establishment’s offerings for increased profitability. Utilizing a mix of psychology, design, and analytics, this technique focuses on making items more appealing to customers and driving sales of high-margin dishes. So, let’s dive into the secrets of mastering menu engineering for a more profitable food service business.

Understanding and Categorizing Your Menu Items

Before you start redesigning your menu, it’s important to understand and categorize your menu items, including their food costs and sales performance. Divide your menu into four categories:

  • Stars: High profitability, high popularity
  • Plow Horses: Low profitability, high popularity
  • Puzzles: High profitability, low popularity
  • Dogs: Low profitability, low popularity

By understanding which items fall into each category, you can tailor your menu to highlight profitable dishes and phase out underperformers.

Strategic Design and Layout

Research shows that customers typically spend just 109 seconds scanning a menu. As such, strategic placement and design are crucial to ensure your most profitable items are highlighted to customers. Place higher-margin dishes near the center, top-right, or top-left of the menu, as these are areas where customers’ eyes naturally gravitate. Use boxes, borders, or icons to draw attention to profitable items, and limit dishes per page to avoid overwhelming customers; studies suggest that including no more than seven options per category is optimal. Develop a logical flow to the menu, starting with starters and progressing through main courses, sides, and desserts.

Embracing Technology

With the rise of technology in the hospitality industry, embrace digital solutions to support your menu engineering efforts. Utilize software for managing inventory, tracking sales, and analyzing profitability data. Digital menu boards or tablets can create a dynamic dining experience, allowing customers to explore visual and detailed information about your dishes. Additionally, updating your online presence with menu changes and promotional material can reach a wider audience and drive traffic to your establishment. One way to enhance the customer experience is by implementing a restaurant ordering system, which allows patrons to place orders with ease while reducing the pressure on the waitstaff.

Pricing Strategies

Menu pricing is a balancing act between maximizing profitability and maintaining customer satisfaction. Consider using ‘decoy’ items, which are higher-priced dishes that make other menu items look more affordable, and try to feature a range of price points to cater to different budgets. Avoid cluttering your menu with dollar signs or listing prices in a column; this will encourage customers to focus more on the food than the cost. Experiment with setting prices just below a whole number (e.g., $9.95 instead of $10) to create the perception of better value.

Regular Menu Evaluation

Consistently evaluating and updating your menu is crucial to its continued success. Regularly gather data on sales, profitability, and customer feedback to determine how your menu is performing. Track industry trends and adjust your offerings accordingly to stay competitive. Establishing a schedule for menu updates (e.g., seasonal) will allow you to keep your customers engaged and encourage repeat business.

Optimizing Descriptions

Enticing menu descriptions can help draw attention to your signature dishes and prompt customers to try something new. To write captivating descriptions, consider using sensory words, focusing on unique ingredients, and highlighting any special techniques used. Additionally, adopt a storytelling approach for added appeal and be mindful of the menu’s typography, ensuring the font is clear and easy to read.

Training Staff

Incorporating your team into the menu engineering process is instrumental in achieving success. Ensure servers are educated on new menus and can confidently speak to the details and recommendations. Additionally, encourage staff to gather customer feedback, as this can help you refine the menu and make improvements.

Adapting Menu Offerings to Customer Segments

While it’s essential to create a menu that appeals to your target demographic, it’s also important to accommodate the needs of various customer segments. Offer allergy-friendly and dietary-specific options to cater to guests with special requirements so that they can enjoy their dining experience without feeling limited. By doing this, you are promoting inclusivity and broadening your customer base, which can ultimately lead to increased profits.

Utilizing Psychology

Understanding the psychological factors that impact customer choices can significantly enhance your menu engineering efforts. For example, by simplifying your menu offerings and providing clear categories, you’re reducing decision fatigue for your customers, resulting in a more enjoyable dining experience. Additionally, using descriptive language and utilizing the power of suggestion can influence decision-making and subtly bring attention to higher-margin items.


By understanding the importance of menu engineering and incorporating these strategies into your food service business, you can enhance profitability and impress your customers with a carefully crafted and thought-out menu. Remember, menu optimization is an ongoing process; to be successful, continually evaluate and adjust your offerings based on data and industry trends. Happy engineering, and bon appétit!

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