The DOs and DON'Ts of Crafting a Compelling Menu

Published On: August 27, 2019

My kids’ back to school pictures are up on Instagram so you know what that means… retailers are already touting their Christmas specials and big restaurant brands all over the country are wrapping up their holiday menu decisions so they can start the lengthy process of rolling those menus out to the system before Thanksgiving. Creative complete? Check. Pricing updated? Check. POS ready? Check. Variable pricing and creative for those – ahem- “rogue” – I mean “entrepreneurial” franchisees? Check. So, what now?
Now… how about focusing on that full menu redesign you’ve been avoiding. So. Many. Moving. Parts. While it can be daunting, I’ve talked to a group of industry experts who have guided menu and pricing decisions for some of the biggest restaurant brands in the industry. Here are their Dos and Don’ts of crafting a compelling menu:


• Lead with the highest priced item in any category. Nope, not even if it is your top selling or highest margin item. This will help eliminate pricing “sticker-shock”.
• Increase your prices when money is tight–for example during tax season, in September after back-to-school shopping, or in the beginning of January when credit card statements come due…customers WILL NOTICE.
• Delete the lowest mix items from your menu when you’re trying to simplify without proper research. You could eliminate the veto vote from even your most frequent guests and substantially hurt transactions.
• Right align prices on a menu, rather tuck the price into the end of the menu copy. Aligned prices allow the guests to easily price shop rather than make their purchase decision solely on the item that appeals the most to them.


• Emphasize items by highlighting, bolding, and using icons or hero images. This helps to promote those iconic, brand-enhancing, high-mix, and margin items.
• Think about taking price at the start of vacation/travel season (pre-Memorial Day) or late October to take advantage of guests Holiday shopping and family gatherings…Take price when your guests are in a good mood…they’re traveling, spending time with family and friends… That’s when they’re LESS LIKELY to notice your prices changed at all.
• Consider where new items (LTOs, etc.) will fit on your menu and understand where they steal share from. Are they taking from a lower margin item? Great! If not, know the risk and reward by conducting proper research beforehand.
• Ensure that add-on items are CLEARLY VISIBLE to promote an upsell – think chicken, steak, and shrimp on salads or subbing soup or salad for an existing side. Guests like to customize their items and there is a much greater chance for upsell customization if the items are easily found.
• Consider improving sales and margin with slightly higher priced NEW menu items. In this sense, you will be increasing your average price, without increasing the price of current items.
Having contributed to over 50 menu redesigns, Jayne Strickland, SVP Enterprise Analytics at Fishbowl, finds “many restaurants lose money when they haphazardly strike items from their menu or introduce untested items that trade share from more profitable ones.” Jayne recommends that brands assess the combination of products and services that will appeal to the greatest number of customers. This will allow brands to determine the items to delete while maximizing reach, and the items to introduce that could increase frequency. According to Strickland, “Many restaurants rely on survey or POS data alone, which is a huge miss. Instead, partner purchase data along with survey data when making menu decisions.”
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