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  • Peter Bouloukos

Restaurant Menu 101: Psychology

1. Too Much Technical Jargon – Just because you keep a copy of Food Lover’s Companion on the nightstand, don’t assume patrons do. Before you start throwing around a lot of culinary terms the masses may not understand, consider the audience. Even in an upscale fine dining establishment, menu descriptions should still be understandable. A few well-placed terms like “sauté” or “julienned” will add just enough flavor to a description without frustrating or confusing the average guest.

2. Itemized Menus – Avoid saying exactly how many pieces of food come in a dish. For example, don’t say “six jumbo shrimp” when describing shrimp cocktail. When shrimp rises $3 a pound you would have to raise menu prices and also reprint said menu to adjust for the increase and if the chef decides to put five shrimp instead of six (many do) it sends a clear “negative” message to the guest. Simply saying “jumbo shrimp” will suffice. This way when market prices change you can easily hit profit goals and maintain margins. Common items here would include fresh fish and chicken wings among others…

3. Menu Disclaimers – Most menus will have a disclaimer or two in fine print on the bottom. Common disclaimers include “gratuity will be added to parties of six or more” or “two for one special not available for take-out” or “Kids menu available only for those 12 and under.” And those are all fine. Just don’t crazy with the disclaimers. You don’t want to sound like a drug commercial, listing off all things your restaurant won’t do for customers. With this statement, teach your front and back of house to say “yes” an authentically mean it. Ask me about this!

4. Hard to Read Font – Font is fun to play around with, but when it comes to writing a restaurant menu, simple is best. Sans Serif or Times is the easiest to read in print. Stay away from cursive, all bold or all capitalized text. 12-14 font is the ideal size for easy reading and I personally recommend 14 point.

5. Know your Profit Centers – What menu item generates the largest dollar amount in profit? What menu items regardless of margin is the one your chef wants to showcase because he/she loves the dish? What is your signature menu item people talk about, share online and tell friends about? All three above need to be specifically placed in the menu to create a “feeling” and psychology plays into what people will purchase. In short, ten signature items can generate $280 in profit where one would have to sell thirty-four burgers to match this margin - to thirty-four more guests. Not that I believe a hamburger is not the best food on the planet, but it's something to understand and teach. A great game I would mentally play while managing the floor was counting how many $28 per plate profit items I was selling and matching this verse my nightly labor. In this case, often two or three nights per week we were selling enough of one dish to pay our nightly labor and I over-staffed two specific positions to "polish" guest perception and improve the hospitality experience.

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