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Make a Menu That Makes Money

menu design operations Aug 02, 2018

You look at your menu over and over until you feel like your stare could burn a hole in it. Hey, it looks good. Maybe even great. You decide it’s ready to be rolled out and you decide to launch. Sales jump and you get excited. Then....they seem to level off. What happened?

A fresh menu design is like buying a new car. At first, it’s the greatest thing in the world to you. After a few months, a lot of that newness has worn off. Your menu can be a similar roller coaster of emotions. Time to get your menu mojo back!

First Things First

You must know the cost of every item on your menu (that means both food and beverages—no shortcuts here). Not knowing your costs is really not knowing your business. I asked a recent audience (about 150 people) that I was speaking for what I thought was a straightforward question: “How many people in the room know the cost of the items on your menu?” I was shocked to see only 10 hands in the room rise. [Insert shaking head in disbelief here.]

With the advancement in technology almost every point-of-sale system on the market has a food costing program built into the software. Every major broad line food distributor also has a food cost program that they offer to their customers. There is no excuse not to have a program that can help your nail your costs down. No excuses. If you have been slacking on updating your recipe costs for both the food and your bar, then it time to cowboy up and take some action.

Do Your Research

When you have been using the same menu for years you might be stuck in a little design rut, so fire up your internet and start stalking other restaurants! Not get a restraining order stalking, more like just checking out the competition.

I can’t believe I am going to throw this out there, however, don’t overlook Pinterest. Yes, the website has tons of samples of restaurant menus from around the world, and there are bound to be a few that spark some creative inspiration.

Jot down some notes and take in the look of some new ways to amp up your brand.

Less is More

Particularly when it comes to modern menu design. As a society, we have become a people of instant gratification. The younger generations are very used to having access at their fingertips an answer (or a video) on just about any topic they want to inquire about. They move fast and your menu needs to keep up. Drop some of the longwinded, drawn-out menu descriptions that are overused and overplayed.

How about, “Seared to perfection”? Or the very popular, “A ‘delightful balance’ of vodka, lemonade, and cardamom simple syrup.” [Insert snoring sound here.]

Guests do love transparency on a menu, so just be straightforward and give it to them:

The House Burger

8-ounce Sisters Ranch Grass-Fed Ground Beef + Red Curry Mayo + Sliced Bosque Farms Tomato + Organic Pea Tendrils

No need for all the fluff. Be short and to the point. People don’t read menus like they once did. They tend to scan them, so make it easy for them to find out what they need to know. Use fonts to simplify your menu like below.

Be Bold

A favorite Jedi Menu Mind Trick I use is called the Bold Word. Since people don’t really read menus and tend to scan over them, help them by bolding out key words that get attention.

Look at these two menu items:

Sweet Potato Calamari

Judith Point Calamari + peppadews + peanuts + red curry aioli


Sweet Potato Calamari

Judith Point Calamari + peppadews + peanuts + red curry aioli 

Making it easy for your guests makes it easy for them to make decision, and that is what your goal should be. Avoid the paradox of choice issue where they have so many choices that it actually increases anxiety.

You see it on the faces of guests who reach that point where they can’t decide, which is called threshold. They look confused or frustrated and then will say something like, “Just give me a burger.” 

Paradox of choice brings out the comfort zone in people; they fall back to a decision that is easy. 

Take a look at your menu right now. Does it need to evolve? Maybe it’s time for you to get out of your comfort zone and give your menu a new and improved look. Remember that insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Your menu is your number one marketing and profitability tool you have! Treat it with some respect.


Now it’s time to apply some real Jedi Mind Tricks to get everyone on board to maximize that nice, fresh menu design you created.

Key #1: Manage Your Energy

There are some universal laws that must be obeyed. The first is that everything is energy. Everything. Even you. You are really a bundle of energy that appears in human form. Some quantum physicists would go as far as saying you’re an energy field existing in a larger energy field. That being said, know that energy is transferable. Energy is transferred whenever you interact with another person. Sometimes it’s positive and other times negative.

Managing your energy to stay in the positive range is no easy task. There is a lot of negativity out there and it’s almost like you need to walk around with a protective force field to guard against it. When you want to have influence on another human being your energy level needs to be higher than the person you are trying to influence. How much? Just about one to two levels higher. If your energy is too far above theirs you will come across as being “too much.”

It starts with self-awareness. Where is your energy level right now on a scale from 1-10 (10 being supercharged)? When you approach a guest, try to get a read on their energy level. Then, raise your energy to one level above theirs. Now you will have the power to influence their buying process.

Key #2: Make Sincere Recommendations

Menu choices and deciding on what to order can create anxiety in your guests. Offering many choices can be a bad thing sometimes. People don’t want to make the wrong decision, so we tend to make the safe decision. That leads to stagnant sales.

You break free from this trap by making honest and sincere recommendations to help alleviate the pressure to decide. That requires you knowing two things:

  1. Your favorite item on the menu in each category.
  2. The most popular item in each category. 

Personal recommendations are the stuff marketing gurus preach. Everyone trusts the inside tip from a friend. Facebook is filled with people asking their friends for recommendations. Tap into that need by offering up suggestions of items on the menu that you truly like. Now, it must be authentic or people will see right through your attempt to persuade them. Sincerity is paramount!

Telling them about the most popular items goes to social proof. We like the reassurance that others like it as well. Why do we buy toothpaste that 4 out of 5 dentists recommend? Social proof. Honestly, if you think about it, you have no clue who those dentists are! We gravitate towards social proof like a security blanket: it feels good even if it offers very little real security.

Key #3: Back It with Body Language 

7-38-55. In communication you should understand that words alone only make up 7% of how we communicate. 38% is the tone of voice, and a whopping 55% is non-verbal. It really is not what you say, but how you say it. Your body language speaks volumes for reinforcing the words you choose.

You say that the calamari is your favorite, yet your jaw tightens when you say it. They ask about what bourbon you recommend and you look away while offering the highest-priced one on the list. You might think you’re being clever, but your body is saying something totally different than the words coming from your mouth.

Speak with authenticity and congruency in your body language. When your words and your non-verbals are aligned you will have influence on the items your guests buy.

Key #4: Focus on Hospitality 

Here’s the real trick: Don’t go for the big sales, go for the right sales! Better to make recommendations that will enhance the guest experience then to rack up a big check. People really do know when you’re being manipulative rather than helpful. Make suggestions that fit the guest and come from the spirit of hospitality.

The word hospitality comes from the Latin hospes, which came from the word hostis, which originally meant "to have power." The words hospital, hospice, and hostel also come from the word "hospitality." It’s all about giving personal care to people who are away from their homes. Hospitality is about being a host to your guest in your establishment.

Being a host is being committed to serving others. Many working in restaurants and bars have forgotten that. Stop trying to raise the check and instead focus on raising your level of hospitality. Do that and you’ll see that the sales follow. The bonus is that sales will consistently increase as your level of hospitality increases.

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