Menu engineering 101
One of the highlights of The International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of NY's closing day was an informative, practical session on menu design and editing.
 
Bill Marvin, a restaurant consultant and prolific author, demonstrated simple ways independents and multiunit chains alike can optimize sales through an effective layout.
 
"I don't come to your place to be a student of your menu," Marvin said. "So tell me what you want me to buy, and I might buy it."
 
The details
 
Many restaurant chains don't realize the power of communicating menu items simply. Corporate offices often draft crammed, complex menus with no consideration for where consumers' eyes go first.
 
Marvin broke it down simply: Eyes usually go straight to the center of a one-page menu. For a two-pager, they land on the upper third of the second page first. And for a three-part fold-out, the center part always gets the most eyes, followed by the third page, top to bottom, and finally, the first.
 
Where items are arranged in lists, Marvin said, highest margin items should go at the top and bottom, where eyes go first. Lower performing options should go in the somewhat abandoned middle.
 
Some offerings were more commonsensical: If you want to highlight a menu item, he said, highlight it with a callout of "special." If you box the item, it will sell more. If you add a border, it will sell even more. Shade the box to sell even more than that.
 
Making more money
 
As for pricing, Marvin recommended making it less distinctive by putting it closer to the end of item descriptions, without dollar signs. Another strategy involves rounding cents up: menu items under $5 can be raised by increments of 4 cents if they're in quarterly portions, without customers really perceiving the increase. With items $5 to $10, the increments can be raised by much wider swaths, so that $7.59 is perceived roughly equally to $7.99.
 
He ended with other details to optimize menu organization. Some of those suggestions included offering separate menus for takeout, desserts, lunch, dinner and weekend, optimizing and tailoring each to that specific daytime to make them more targeted to daypart and occasion.
 
Featuring fewer menu items is also another lesson in the power of simplicity. That usually means faster decisions for patrons. "If your customer can't decide what to eat, he's gonna go for the burger," Marvin said—even if that's not your specialty.
 
*Flickr photo by Leunix

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