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What is Menu Engineering?

By Harriette Halepis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Menu engineering, also referred to as menu psychology, is an occupation that is entirely focused upon the building and structuring of menus. Menu engineers are generally hired on a contract basis to work on an existing restaurant's menu. Through various tactics including psychology, graphic design, marketing, and managerial accounting, these experts are able to craft a menu that encourages the sale of some items, while discouraging the sale of others.

The psychology behind menu engineering has to do with visual perception. A menu engineer places items that an owner wishes to sell more of within certain sections of a menu called "sweet spots." These menu items are often the first and last things that a customer views when looking at a menu. Thus, any item that a restaurant wants to sell more of will be placed towards the top and bottom of each page.

Managerial accounting also plays a large part in menu engineering. In order to increase a restaurant's profitability, a menu expert will calculate the costs associated with each item on a menu. In order to do this, food costs, labor costs, and packaging costs must be calculated. Once all items have been tabulated, those items that are more expensive are placed near the top or bottom of a menu.

When applying marketing techniques to menu engineering, four main categories are considered. The term stars is applied to menu items that are both popular and can contribute to a restaurants profitability. If an item is considered a plough horse or cash cow, it is also an item that is popular, but doesn't contribute too much to a restaurant's profits.

Menu items that are called puzzles are not too popular, though they are lucrative. Lastly, dogs are items that are not popular and not profitable. Most of the time, dogs are removed from a menu altogether. These methods used to label dishes prove to be rather effective. Today, many restaurants hire menu engineering experts to craft, design, and construct their menus.

In addition to the tactics mentioned above, the graphic design of a menu is also crucial. Deigns that are clear, welcoming, and precise are preferred over menus that are crowded and confusing. Any restaurant that wishes to increase profitability would be wise to consider menu engineering.

This science is an ideal way to coax customers into purchasing items that will turn a profit for any hospitality business. While menus may seem haphazardly put-together, this is not the case. Instead, most restaurant menus go through numerous rounds of editing and crafting before a menu is complete.

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