Menu Psychology: How To Increase Restaurant Profits
Imagine if the bank offered to cut you a check that boosted your profits by 15%. A bonus that size is welcome at any time, but especially now. With COVID-19 closures making it even more difficult for restaurants to protect their bottom line and keep staff employed, finding ways to make the most of existing resources could be the next best thing to stumbling across a big bag of cash.
With just a few changes to menu design, you could see as much as a 15% increase in profits — and it’s all because of restaurant menu psychology.
The Details Behind the Decision-Making
When hungry guests sit down at a table or slide into a welcoming booth, they’re rarely ready to order. Unless you’re dealing with a high proportion of regulars with very static tastes, guests wait to decide what to eat until they see the menu. These guests don’t make a quick scan either. The seemingly “haphazard” way diners read a menu is entirely predictable.
Numerous studies have shown that guests evaluate a menu based on the following:
- Eye movement patterns
Knowing how to take advantage of those six factors helps you understand menu psychology. Knowing how and why diners make decisions helps you guide them toward more profitable options and encourage incremental sales to pad your PPA (per person average).
Attract Attention With Eye Magnets
Graphic designers understand how to create eye-catching ads. You can use the same striking elements to influence diners. Eye magnets include:
- Photos and illustrations
- Callout boxes
- Negative space
Bright colors demand attention (obviously), but there are more factors to consider than that. For instance, red is invigorating and exciting and could stimulate guests’ appetites, while blue has the opposite effect. As for photos, they could work well in more casual eateries selling unfamiliar dishes, but you don’t necessarily want to use images of food on a high-end tasting menu.
Callout boxes are ideal for pointing out profitable add-ons like steak sauces, a la carte proteins to put on salads, and desserts. As for negative space, leaving some open areas around profitable dishes calls attention to the food, and that’s a good thing. Finally, make sure to consider fonts. Different font sizes or styles can effectively emphasize key dishes or reinforce the restaurant’s theme. Vary the font too much, and your menu might look confusing rather than stylish.
Eye magnets can be tricky, so use them sparingly and only when appropriate for your concept and target demographic. When in doubt, make like Coco Chanel and take one thing off before sending the menu out the door.
Scale Back to Ramp Up
This dynamic may come as a surprise, but you’ll sell more if you offer less. Too many options can overwhelm diners, making them indecisive. It isn’t easy to choose from 10 soups that all sound delicious! If you only offer one clam chowder and a veggie chili available, picking a side becomes far easier. Take a long, hard look at your menu and knock off any low in both profit and popularity.
Tweak Your Pricing
It’s not only the price of a dish that matters; it’s also how it’s displayed. A Cornell University study found that formatting prices with just numerals and no dollar signs resulted in larger checks than if the dollar sign were present.
Truffle & Bacon Flatbread $19
Truffle & Bacon Flatbread 19
Both examples are priced the same, but the dollar sign immediately reminds guests that their money is on the line. The focus is on finances rather than on how mouthwateringly delicious that flatbread sounds.
Another pricing trick is to put the most expensive item in each menu section at the very top. Everything below it will seem like a comparative bargain. Sitting down at a new Italian place and spotting $22 carbonara and $19 boar pappardelle might make your pocketbook twitch, but if you see a $29 shrimp scampi first, your perspective may shift.
Rearrange Menu Items
Diners’ eyes follow a pattern known as the “Golden Triangle.” While scanning a menu, they look about one-third of the way down the page, then work their way up to the right-hand corner, and finally travel across to the left side. If you have high-profit dishes you’d like to sell more often, place them right in that triangle center. It’s like shining a light on the entrees that have star potential.
Even outside the triangle, there are ways to reorder items to maximize revenue. Most people read from top to bottom, put your highest-profit items first, and leave the lowest-profit dishes. The hope is that customers will decide before they get to the bottom of the list.
Restaurant Menu Psychology — A Final Word
When times are tough, it’s easy to rush headfirst into any changes that might encourage more sales. Menu psychology works, but it’s still important to embrace balance. Change the menu gradually to avoid throwing off regular customers and make sure the desire for profitability doesn’t overshadow your commitment to quality and the restaurant’s overall concept. Menu design is part art, part science, and a lot of power — wield it with respect and a financially secure future may follow. Consult the accompanying menu psychology infographic for more details on how psychology can improve restaurant profits.
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About the Author
Jackie Prange is the Marketing Manager for RestoHub. Prange has worked in the restaurant technology space for more than five years, introducing new and existing restaurant owners to tools and resources to set up their businesses for success.