Friday, April 18, 2014

Why restaurant patrons may want to turn their menus upside down

I work as a proposal writer for a living, but my proposals are never read by more than a few dozen people. If I wanted to be a widely-read proposal writer, I'd quit my job and go to work for a restaurant chain - or even for a single-location restaurant. More people read the menus in a restaurant in one day than will read one of my proposals over my entire lifetime.

A restaurant menu is a business proposal. The menu offers a variety of items that you can purchase, and then you as a restaurant patron choose which items to buy.

If a restaurant has any smarts about what it's doing, it will use its menu to guide you to the items that it wants you to buy, using a concept known as "menu engineering." Gregg Rapp outlines a four-step process to re-engineer - or re-re-engineer - a restaurant menu:

1. Cost your menu. (You can’t skip this step!)
2. Categorize menu items according to profit and popularity levels.
3. Design your menu.
4. Test your new menu design.

As part of the second step, categorization, the items on the restaurant menu are divided into four categories:

Stars—high profitability and high popularity
Plow-horses—low profitability and high popularity
Puzzles—high profitability and low popularity
Dogs—low profitability and low popularity

While the organization of items on the restaurant menu isn't the only determinant of profitability - waiter/waitress suggestions of menu items are obviously also important - the knowledge that the restaurant owner gains in the first two steps of Rapp's process (costing and categorizing) contributes to the menu design in the third step. For example, if one of the items on a restaurant menu is a "plow-horse" (low profitability, high popularity), you probably don't want to prominently feature it on your menu.

So where SHOULD you place the menu "stars"? Rapp and others have performed studies of various menu types are various positioning options, and have determined that for a two-panel menu, the area that garners the most attention is the top of the right-side panel. So perhaps that is the place that you want to place a "star," or a "puzzle" that you think will do well with just a bit more prominence.

If you're a RESTAURANT OWNER, read more of Rapp's suggestions in the article or at Rapp's company website.

And if you're a the same.

When a police department reads a proposal that I write, the intelligent people in the department figure out what I'm trying to emphasize...and what I'm trying to gloss over. They evaluate what I'm saying against their needs, and if I'm not addressing one of their chief needs, they'll ask questions about it.

Similarly, when a restaurant patron reads a re-engineered menu, and hears the waitress talking about the "two entrees for $39.99" special, an intelligent patron will figure out what's being sold.

Perhaps the patron will turn the menu upside down and see what's featured in the NEW top right corner - which was formerly the bottom left corner. What's being hidden there?

I'm not necessarily arguing that restaurants and patrons should be in an adversarial relationship - and if the featured item in the REAL top right corner best meets your needs, go ahead and order it.

Just remember that knowledge is power.
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