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Your Guide to Menu Engineering

Chances are, when someone goes out to eat, they’re likely to take their menu at face value. There’s food, descriptions, prices, and maybe a photo or two— it seems to be, quite plainly, a tool for them to view a restaurant's offerings so that they can place an order.

However, menus have the potential to be much more than this. Menu engineering is a marketing tactic rooted in human psychology, that involves the strategic construction of menus to influence the buying decisions of diners. From its organizational structure, visual design, and even its verbiage, every component of a menu can subliminally impact what and how much a customer orders. For this reason, it’s incredibly important for restaurants to design their menus with these details in mind. Below, we’ll explore the different tenets of menu engineering, and how they appeal to basic psychology to encourage diners to spend more.

Custom printed restaurant menu

1. Make an Impression— and Quick!

Let’s be honest. Customers rarely read a menu in its entirety. In fact, studies have shown that on average, diners spend less than 1.5 minutes looking over a menu before they make a decision. Ergo, menus should be designed with this in mind. Restaurants should make their menus easy to scan over, with legible font type and size, bold headings, and discernible dish titles. It’s also crucial to know where the eyes are most likely to wander within that short window of time. In most instances, customers will spend the most time looking at the first and last items, so if there is a particular dish you want to sell more of, it pays to place them in these spots.

2. Emphasize Big-Ticket Dishes

As we just stated, where you place an item can encourage the frequency with which they are ordered. However, there are plenty of other ways to get specific dishes noticed. This is done with the use of “eye magnets”, which is essentially any element that grabs someone's attention. This could include photos or illustrations, borders, frames, boxes, colored or emboldened text—the list goes on. Any of these could easily interrupt the natural reading pattern of the viewer and divert their attention toward the embellished menu item.

Bear in mind, though, that incorporating too many eye magnets can result in them canceling each other out. If every other item is emphasized, their impact becomes lost on the diner. A good rule of thumb is to highlight one item per category, max.

3. Color Counts

Color theory is an important facet of menu engineering. Humans subconsciously connect certain colors with different meanings and emotions, and it’s imperative to understand these hidden connotations when designing your menu. For instance, blues and purples may seem like a pretty color scheme to incorporate into your menu design, but color theory dictates that these colors can suppress feelings of hunger. This is thought to be because these colors rarely occur in nature, and when they do, they often manifest as poisonous or toxic plants and animals that we have been conditioned to avoid as an evolutionary trait.

On the other hand, reds, yellows, oranges, and browns are said to do the opposite. These colors are more indicative of food items our ancestors were likely to find in nature, thus stimulating our appetite. Reds and yellows are also major attention-grabbers.

4. Incorporate Images Sparingly

While photos and images can serve as an effective eye magnet in some cases, it’s important not to overdo it. Also, depending on the type of restaurant, you may want to forgo them altogether. Menus that feature multiple photos or graphics of their dishes are much more acceptable at, say, a diner than at a fancy steakhouse. This is because an image-laden menu is often seen as lower-end.

However, even casual eateries should be sparing with images on their menus. As we discussed in our second point, using too many of these elements can severely undercut their impact. Only use images for items you really want to sell and limit them to one per category.

5. List Prices Wisely

No matter how well your menu is designed, it’s always hard to get a diner to overlook a hefty price tag. Luckily, there are several methods for helping to soften the blow that a steeply-priced dish can deliver. First, ditch the dollar signs. The last thing you want to remind customers of is the fact that they’re spending money, and that’s exactly what any currency symbol will do. Listing the dollar amount as a solitary number serves to curb sticker shock, so to speak. In fact, it has been shown that people are more likely to spend more at restaurants that don’t feature the dreaded “$”.

To further deemphasize the cost of your items, it’s important to “bury your prices.” Some restaurants feature dishes in one column, and prices in another. The last thing you want to do is give your prices their very own special spot where they can shine bright. Not only does this draw extra attention to the prices, but it influences diners to look for the cheapest option and lock in. Instead, you want to “bury” the prices by placing them directly next to the listing, almost as if it was an extension of the dish name, or right under it.

Finally, using a “decoy” dish is another way to mask high prices. A “decoy” is an item that seems to be wildly over-priced— and it is, but for good reason. Restaurants don’t intend to sell large quantities of this dish. Instead, they are featured on menus to make other items you do want to sell look much more reasonably priced.

Menu engineering is one of the most powerful marketing tactics that a restaurant can employ. This is not only because of how effective this subtle strategy is, but because of how easy it is to employ. At the end of the day, all you really need is a good design, and a means to make that design come to life. If this is what you’re looking for, a top printer like Omega High Impact Print Solutions can craft and fabricate a menu for your business that will cook up revenue in no time. Click here for a free quote!

Written by Omega High Impact Print Solutions' Digital Marketing Manager, Emily Steel


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