Four Power Areas That Boost Your Menu Marketing

Most commonly, when a client asks for a menu redesign, the answer to the question “when did you last change it?” is a few years ago or more. Inevitably I wonder if that means:
  • their prices haven’t changed in as many years,
  • they’ve continued to offer underperforming items,
  • they’ve neglected to develop new menu items that speak to the ever-changing demands of restaurant-goers.
I’ve even encountered well-established restaurants that have added offerings without considering removing what may no longer be selling, effectively creating an overwhelming read for their customers and an operations nightmare for the kitchen.

So what do you do when you find yourself in this position?

Revise and revamp. Having recently helped a large chain with a complete menu overhaul, I can tell you it can be daunting. While my client understood the need to scrap older, less popular products – because their menu had become difficult to navigate and they needed room for new items – it was nevertheless a challenge. Emotionally, we yearn to please every individual, but from a business perspective, you can’t be all things to all people.

The easiest place to start is to run a sales report on every item you offer. Nix the items that don’t sell in volume. You surely cannot afford to keep the inventory simply because you have one customer who, although loyal for years, is the only person ordering it.

Fear not, however! There is always a back-up plan if things don’t work out. When my client launched their new menu, despite overwhelmingly positive comments, a significant number of customers were still asking for one of the eliminated items. So, they offered it as a special on one of their slower nights – and much to their benefit, those nights became populated by customers longing for their old staple.


Do not be tempted to copy another popular restaurant’s design; your menu must promote your brand. Additionally, you may know a graphic designer but that doesn’t of itself qualify them to design menus. Contract a professional knowledgeable in brand consistency and menu engineering. Also, if you are not working with a professional food photographer, find one. Your product invariably suffers the most horrible of injustices if you fail to do so.

Menu engineering

The ROI on a well-engineered menu is not to be underestimated. That something fits well in a space or looks pretty on a page does not necessarily mean it’s in the right place. Design is both science and art. Menu engineering draws focus to items that are both high volume and profit, and gives your customers a smoother, more enjoyable ordering experience.


This is equally as important as the arithmetic of your menu. Shockingly, a large percentage of my clients have admitted to a lack of knowledge of both food cost and contribution margin on their products. Simply adding a percentage to your food cost is not as useful as integrating the contribution margin (the marginal profit-per-unit sale) to your number crunching. But don’t shy away from the math; with so much software available today you can easily outsource the initial data entry, and then it’s as simple as pressing “update” when suppliers raise prices. And since it’s easier to raise your prices by cents than dollars, review your menu pricing every quarter.

Harnessing the power of the menu

Your menu is the most powerful sales tool you have in your arsenal. Leverage this power by focusing on the four areas of content, design, engineering and pricing.  Regularly review your sales, pare down your offerings to reflect the tastes of your customer majority, and add new items when times and cultural environment dictate. Your attention to all these areas on a regular basis is your best bet for a powerful sales-generating menu.

See also:

About the author

Cynthia Hollidge is president of Toronto-based foodservice marketing firm CCS Creative. A recognized expert in the food presentation, marketing and distribution industry in North America, she has had over 25 years experience serving in managerial and executive positions in the food industry. With a unique ability to visualize the overall picture, her insight is a much sought-after asset valued by her clients.

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