Menu Engineering: How Large Restaurant Operators Add 10–15% to Their Bottom Line by Constantly Improving Their Menus

What is Menu Engineering?

The matrix immediately shows your best sellers and unprofitable items.
  • highly popular/highly profitable [a star]
  • popular but not very profitable [a plowhorse]
  • profitable but not popular [a puzzle]
  • not popular/not profitable [a dog]
See at a glance your top items, and rethink your low-profit ones.
Michael’s LinkedIn profile

How To Do Menu Analysis & Sales Mix Matrix Manually

These figures show you how much your menu items cost and yield.

[Free Download] Menu Engineering Worksheet

Your most and least profitable items stand out immediately.
This view organises your menu in an easy-to-process matrix.

Why Are Food Costs & Costed Recipes Important for Menu Engineering?

Peckwater Brands’ blog

Make Menu Decisions On the Fly With Apicbase

Data-Driven Decisions For Menu Categories

Squeezing the Last Ounce of Value from Your Menu Stars

  1. Maintain quality — don’t significantly alter any of the components of these dishes, and keep ingredient quality high. Substantial changes can reduce the popularity of an item.
  2. Increase price — this is a balancing act — don’t go overboard with price increases because you’ll decrease the item’s perceived value [and its popularity].
  3. Train staff to get descriptive when selling — train your servers to sell stars with a flare [if needed, provide a script]. It’s not ‘basil sauce’’… it’s ‘a house basil sauce made from locally grown herbs following the chef’s grandmother’s recipe’. Descriptive and evocative sells.
  4. Rethink menu placement — your stars should have a place of honour on your menu — middle, top left, or top right are the sweet spots [the so-called golden triangle]. Use visual cues [borders, colours, images] to draw attention to these items, but avoid clutter.
  5. Reexamine vendor relations — double-check where your ingredients are coming from. If the main ingredient of a star menu item is sourced from a single vendor, think about what you can do to get a better deal. Maybe you sign a long-term contract with more favourable terms? Transfer extra orders to that vendor to secure better prices? Or settle your invoices in under 30 days to qualify for a discount? Whatever you can do to lower portion costs will result in a higher contribution margin.
Curtis’ LinkedIn profile at Kloudz

Transforming Plowhorse Items into Menu Stars

  1. Increase price — the goal here is to increase profitability without making a dent in the menu item’s popularity. The best way to do that is to test gradual price increases over an extended period.
  2. Lower portion cost — decrease portion size if possible, and try different lower-value accompaniments — a side of cheaper, seasonal vegetables might work just as well as something more expensive.
  3. Create a low-cost combo option — add a contribution-margin-boosting side to the dish that a customer can pay extra for. Dishes that work best here are made from leftovers and have low labour costs.
  4. Train staff to offer premium accompaniments — with popular menu items, servers should strive to increase cheque size by offering premium side dishes and beverages. Also, they should always look for opportunities to cross-sell appetisers, entrees, and desserts.
  5. Decrease visibility — if you can’t do much to increase the profitability, you should consider moving it to a less prominent part of your menu [think of it as reverse menu psychology]. This way, you’ll open up valuable menu real-estate for more profitable dishes.
  6. Renegotiate vendor prices — as with the stars, look at what you can do about ingredient prices to shrink your costs. If you can shave 5 to 10 per cent on the cost side of things, you’ll start breaking even.

Solving Puzzles & Boosting Their Popularity

  1. Test menu positions — test different menu placements: the golden triangle positioning and callout boxes are good places to start. Also, going all-in on evocative descriptions might help some customers choose a dish they otherwise wouldn’t because of their unfamiliarity with it.
  2. Decrease price — consider decreasing the price of a puzzle menu item to see if that will increase the sales.
  3. Increase portion size — or, alternatively, switch to better accompaniments and garnishes. Doing this can increase the perceived value of the dish, making it more appealing to your diners.
  4. Actively promote — consider promoting some puzzle dishes via your marketing collateral [location posters, table stickers, or in-restaurant displays]. Run a combo special to test how customers respond to increased value/offer variety. Include an experiential component [for example, tableside preparation].

Knowing When To Delete Your Dogs [& When to Keep Them On]

Agile Menu Engineering = Rethinking The Fundamentals

Apicbase’s Menu Engineering Software Lets You Work the Magic Every Day

See Apicbase’s One-Click Sales Mix Matrix in Action



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Geert Merckaert

Geert Merckaert


I write about F&B Management Best Practices for Multi-Unit Food Businesses. My goal is to help you keep costs down, quality up and operations running smoothly.