Brillo Cleaning Guide 10/19
Condiments on table

The choice is yours

Skilled Menu Design and Management will guide customers to your more profitable dishes without any hard sell.

There’s an old saying ‘you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’ – in other words, you can suggest a choice to someone but you can’t make them act on it. But that’s no longer the case, according to the latest ‘experts’ now peppering our industry. They claim that when it comes to ordering food, you can make a customer’s mind up for them and that all you need to do is to put some thought into the design of your menu. Called menu engineering, it is something all the big restaurant chains have bought into, spawning a new breed of catering industry consultant, whose tools of the trade combine knowledge of psychology with graphic design.

They talk of communicating subliminal messages through the lay-out, look and feel of your menu, which will direct a customer’s choice towards your highest profit dishes.

They also promise you an increase in average customer spend combined with less wastage. So would you be right to invest in their services? Before you make up your mind, you could try out some of their techniques when writing your next menu.

Look & Feel

According to research by Gallup, the average customer spends just 109 seconds reading a menu before deciding on their order.

This finding has led chains like TGI Fridays to slash the length of its menus, which in turn has reduced the number of dishes it offers to customers. This, it claims, has saved prep time – and time is money – in the kitchen, as well as reduced wastage to add to its overall profitability. To further emphasise a dish you are keenest to sell, it is recommended that you leave some white space around it so that it stands out, or, alternatively, use a different typeface (font) for its description or even, put it in a different colour.

However, never use more than three different typefaces on your menu as this will dilute the drawing power of the font and stop the eye from resting in any one specific area. At the same time, avoid using greys and purples for your colour scheme as these colours apparently suppress hunger so are unhelpful to food sales, while red and blues stimulate appetite.

With your ‘eye magnet’ techniques in place, make sure your menu isn’t cumbersome to handle so that customers feel comfortable with it and can relax. Don’t over-crowd it. A crowded menu is difficult to read and so puts customers under pressure. It is better to have separate drinks, dessert and children’s menus rather than squash everything together. Relaxed customers are more likely to be happy customers, who will stay longer and so spend more. They are also more likely to come back if their experience is positive.

Sweet Spots

New research from San Francisco State University suggests we read menus sequentially from left to right as we do books and newspapers. As we’re reading, our eyes momentarily linger on the top right hand corner of the page. In menu engineering terms, this makes this space a ‘sweet spot’ – an area to highlight the dishes we most want to sell either because they are the cheapest for us to produce or, because they are the ones we cook the best, signature dishes that will return customers to us.

To make the customers’ eyes stay on the ‘sweet spot’ for as long as possible, menu design consultants recommend placing the menu items taking up that space in a box. Framing or boxing off sections of your menu (shading through colour gradation works too) is akin to highlighting the dishes it contains.


When writing your menu, keep the wording simple but if you want to emphasise a particular choice, subtle ‘textual manipulations’ are the way forward, according to the rules of menu engineering. Descriptive labelling can produce a positive effect, leading to higher customer satisfaction and higher perceived product value. At its simplest, this translates to adding ‘light and fluffy, made with free range eggs’ to precede the option of ‘omelette’. You may want to re-describe your apple pie as ‘made to grandma’s recipe’ served with custard ‘made with fresh milk from our local farm.

Some of the chain restaurants have also started including brand names in their product descriptions, if the brand is a popular consumer choice e.g. Minute Maid or Tropicana chilled orange juice.


Pound signs and zeroes should be left out, according to menu design consultants, as people spend more when they are not reminded of the cost. Their argument is that £15.00 looks much more money-focused and expensive than the trendily naked ’15’ and that £9.99 seems horrible compared to ‘9.50’ or even ‘9.95’.

Some restaurants use ‘decoys’. These are really expensive items that they place at the top of the menu so that other dishes look more reasonably priced. Research shows that most diners tend to order neither the most nor the least expensive menu items. Instead, they settle for a choice towards the middle price bracket. You can therefore play up or play down the price of a dish, depending on how much you want to sell it.

When offering a share platter, it is advised that it appears on the menu at the ‘per person’ rate e.g. if the dish costs £16, write up the price as ‘8 per person’ because some diners will forget to double up when doing their mental arithmetic, especially if on a date. Couples tend to care less about price than other diners, as no one wants to look a cheapskate in front of someone they want to impress!

Feed Your Eyes

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