Day 12: Engineer Your Menu for Maximum Profits

black-badge-300pxDay 12 - Get Your Restaurant in Shape Gregg Rapp is a “menu engineer,” which means he consults with restaurants to make their menus more profitable by designing them with visual and verbal psychology in mind. He’s spent the last 30 years helping restaurants grow profits and increase customer loyalty and frequency — often just by changing the presentation of what’s already being offered. We sat down with Gregg to hear his list of Dos and Don’ts for restaurant menus.

Categories & Organization

DO organize dishes into categories, with headers. By organizing your menu into different categories — think Seafood, Sandwiches, or Vegetarian — you make it easier for guests to navigate and find what they’re looking for. “The easier it is to order, the more a person will order,” says Gregg. His rule of thumb: DON’T exceed seven dishes in a single category. Five is the optimal number, but it’s fine if you only have one or two items, also. The most important thing is helping people navigate easily.


“If the descriptions sound so good that you can’t make up your mind between three different items, you’re going to come back,” says Gregg. DO add descriptions that make your dishes sound different (and better) than the place across the street so that you stand out. Tell them what they’re tasting — add spices and flavors to pique the guest’s awareness of what they’re eating.

If writing isn’t your forte, try recording yourself describing a dish out loud, as if you were talking to someone on the phone. Then transcribe and edit it for the space on the menu. Explain why the item made it on to the menu — give the background and story.

Also, be specific about where the food is from. List the state, town, or even the farm where the meat, fish, or vegetables came from to enhance the description. “The further down you can dial, the more important you make the food,” Gregg tells us. “It attaches more significance to the dish and the diners feel like they are getting more for their money.”


When it comes to listing the price on menus, Gregg sums it this way: “95 cents is comfortable; 99 cents is a little cheesy and deceitful; a ‘.00’ price has attitude; and no ‘.00’ has even more attitude.” DO match your pricing format with your restaurant concept and stick to it.

Also, DON’T use a line of dots to connect the dish to the price, as many restaurant menus do. And especially DON’T list the dishes in order of price. “Lining up the prices will force the customer to order by price,” says Gregg. Instead, write the description and then add two spaces, and the price. DO bury the price so it’s there for customers to see, but they are not ordering based on price alone.

Finally, DO remove dollar signs, which remind people they’re spending money. Keeping them off softens all of the prices on the menu.


DO give the dishes you want to sell the most of — likely the ones that generate the most revenue — prime real estate on your menu. “The upper right corner is the best spot,” says Gregg. “Make the decision of what you want to be known for, and put it there.”

He adds: “In menu engineering, you look for the dollar profit on the item, not the food cost percentage. Then you try to sell that dish.” However, Gregg emphasizes that it’s more important to earn a loyal customer — one who comes back 12 times — than to sell them the most expensive item on the menu.


When presented with a single-panel menu, guests will order quickly but not as much, says Gregg. On a two-panel menu, they will order more appetizers and desserts, and the range of offerings will feel more substantial — even if it’s actually the same number of items.

If yours is a single-panel menu, DO keep all of the entrees on one side only. A big mistake that Gregg sees restaurants make is listing half of the entrees on one side and half on the other, which is problematic because often people will stop at the first side and never turn the menu over.

Finally, DON’T limit yourself by the size of the paper you’re using. It sounds obvious, but plenty of restaurants will find a menu cover they like and try to squeeze their menu into without thinking. DO figure out what you want to include on your menu and then select a paper size.

Wine & Drinks

According to Gregg, 70 percent of customers do not know what they’re going to order when they sit down in the bar. That’s a huge opportunity to guide their decision. DO use drink menus to direct the sale, along with bar displays, signage, and the presentation of the bottles. “Whatever you want to sell more of, make that more prominent,” he says. “If all you see is vodka behind the bar, you probably won’t ask for a beer.”

Wine is a big opportunity for improvement. “Wine lists are the worst menus — they’re price lists,” says Gregg. DO make them more effective by teaching people about the wine and why you included it on the list. Add more detail beyond just the name, year, and price of the wine.

Here’s another fun fact: listing a wine next to a dish will sell only one glass of wine. Gregg recommends finding out what the customer likes and matching the wine to the person, not the entree to the wine.

Contact Gregg at or at (760) 323-4848.

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