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How to engineer a stellar menu for your restaurant

31 Jan 2023

An excellent menu not only draws attention to a restaurant’s priciest offerings but also encourages customers to order their star dishes.

Food Forward Consulting tackles the topic of optimal menu engineering and how crucial it is to the restaurant’s success.

Menu engineering is the process of creating a menu that showcases the kitchen’s skills while also taking into account food and purchase expenses.

It should be elegant yet subtle, eventually contributing to the restaurant’s narrative. Its main goal is to boost the restaurant's earnings by about 20%.

two hands holding white plate with foods

Setting a specific time frame to analyze data

It is essential to revisit menu pricing from time to time in order to reflect fluctuating food costs. A restaurant’s gross profit margin will decrease and earn less if food expenses rise but the menu pricing remains the same.

Many have had to change their menus as a result of declining earnings brought on by increased food prices. While most of them are hesitant to raise menu pricing out of concern that this would decrease demand, the increasing expenses cannot be offset by simple menu tweaks but rather necessitate a more intricate menu engineering.


Using analytics to determine menu item popularity

The first step is using food costs and sales data to determine which menu items are the most profitable, which require emphasizing, and which ones are best eliminated or reimagined. It is essential to include the labor cost involved in the preparation. Some dishes may appear inexpensive when the ingredients are taken into account; However, the time it takes to prepare them can make a huge difference. 

Restaurateurs need to examine their expenses and consider every option possible to save costs. For example, opting for local sourcing, seasonality, and sustainability might be good options. Given the growing cost of shipping, affordability should take precedence over grandeur.

Categorize menu items based on profit and popularity

Categorizing menu items and comparing their profitability versus popularity is the most effective approach.

There are four menu engineering categories:


Low profitability and low popularity


Low profitability and high popularity


High profitability and low popularity


High profitability and high popularity


The matrix identifies the menu items that generate profits, and the ones that don't, which should be changed or eliminated entirely.

Dishes listed in the High-High category are obviously great as they are. The menu items categorized in the High-Low quadrant need to be priced cheaper to increase demand, or be featured more prominently on the menu and upsold more frequently by waiters. Lowering their prices should only be used as a last resort because it will reduce profitability.

Although clients may have grown accustomed to the Low-High dishes, it is essential to update them to boost profitability. The price may be increased, but this is ill-advised as it might hurt their popularity. The Low-Low quadrant needs to be entirely rethought or eliminated.

To be competitive in the restaurant sector, these calculations and comparisons need to be done regularly.  

Understanding menu dynamics

Understanding menu psychology helps determine how customers interact with menus and how they can be designed to compel them to act in a particular way (like ordering and spending more). Every aspect should be taken into consideration, from menu items to categories to how the dish price is displayed, to the colors and placement.

Choosing the right menu configuration

The effectiveness of menu engineering depends on how many panels a menu has. Two-panel menus are more effective than one and three-panels menus, as they evoke a feeling of a full dining experience whilst being easy for customers to read.

Menu guide.jpg

Customers struggle when faced with too many options to choose from, which leads them to be dissatisfied with the choice they end up making. That is why it is advised to split an extensive menu that includes breakfast/brunch and dinner options into numerous menus and swap them out when one service starts and the other concludes.

Opting for optimal menu placement

It’s estimated that diners spend less than 90 seconds looking over the menu. That is why it is essential to know what customers look at and where their eyes wander during this brief scan in order to determine where to place the menu items that will entice guests.

Training service staff well

Menu engineering refers to the behind-the-scenes strategy that goes into crafting a restaurant menu, but waiters ultimately have the power to influence what customers order.

They’re the ones dealing with guests on a daily basis. It is essential to teach them which menu items to upsell so they can influence customers.


The greatest menus employ the perfect blend of financial and design choices that also adhere to the restaurant's brand image.  One of the most devastating mistakes is to put time and effort into carefully engineering a menu, only for it to gradually lose its effectiveness. It’s advised to always double-check assumptions, and make sure the menu doesn't lose sight of the core principles underlying the restaurant's reputation and culture.

Image by Mediamodifier
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