Restaurant menu engineering

Restaurant menu engineering

This means rewriting your menu so customers choose the more profitable items.

Well, if it sounds a bit contrived, it’s because it is. I can rewrite your menu (assuming it hasn’t been optimised already) so that your guests will be persuaded to order what you hope they will order (the more profitable things).

“No, that’s just dishonest,” said a friend.

I don’t think it is at all. Everyone wants their product to be seen in its best light. You see theatre billboards with “Amazing!” Daily Mail “Not to be missed!” Daily Telegraph. “A right corker!” Daily Mirror. These aren’t the whole review, just the tasty, best bits. So, it is with your menu. You have the same food as before, you are just promoting it, or optimising it in a way that benefits you, the owner the most.

A restaurant can’t be successful if you don’t know the profitability of each dish and monitor it closely. Any fool can produce great food at a low profit or even a loss. The trick is to produce great food at a great profit; at least most of the time.

Food menus are not set in stone

Food menus should change subtly to reflect your customer tastes and profitability. Slow selling items won’t be missed; it’s good to try something else.

Good, OK, on the fence and poor profit menu items

You need to divide your menu items into four categories:

😎  Green: high profit, high popularity  ✅  I call these ‘stars’

😀  Amber: high profit, low popularity ✅  I call these ‘wannabes’

😞  Red:  low profit, high popularity 😞  I call these ‘donkeys’

🥵  Black: low profit, low popularity ❌  I call these ‘dead dogs’


You’d like all your menu items to be green, but in an average restaurant, this is not always possible as you will want to offer an element of choice.

Black items should be looked at closely and these are the ones you should consider dropping. Why offer an item that is unpopular and offers you low profit? Is there anything you can do to make it more popular or more profitable? You could allow it to spend some time on a prime spot on the menu to see if that boosts sales, but generally, if you know what the winners are, my suggestion would be to focus on them and sell more of them, rather than try to flog the dead dog.

Pricing, number of menu choices and hot spots

There are other devices you can use to optimise your menu that I’m happy to discuss. How many choices are too many? How to display prices? Where are the menu hotspots? What is the best format for a menu: single page, double-page or three-fold? Should I have a separate dessert menu? Should I cater for special diets?

If this has piqued your interest in the whole topic, why not arrange to have a chat? Please drop me a mail: