Series: The Art of Menu Engineering

This post is part of a series to help you build a winning menu that will engage with your customers, assist your team and most importantly, drive your bottom line.

I work with lots of very passionate chefs who love to cook great dishes from locally sourced food and in return we are rewarded with really happy customers. So when those chefs talk to each other about menu engineering in our food trend workshops, they speak from a position of knowledge and experience.
Time and again, terms like menu-busters; food heroes; increasing GP (gross profit); achieving margin (pretty much the same thing) and even up-selling or cross-selling are thrown in and we all go home feeling warm and fuzzy because we feel we've learned a valuable commercial lesson. What strikes me though, is that I don’t see the front of house guys in this conversation. Nor have we considered asking the marketing or retail-experienced guys what they might think.

So here’s a fundamental question I have for any chef who wants to practice or teach menu engineering: have you owned your own business and relied on that same menu structure to meet rent and payroll at month-end? Rarely the answer is yes. But one thing is certain, it takes more than menu-busters and margin to create a powerful revenue-driving sales tool that any great menu should be.

Let me take you back 14 years to my experience of shouldering that burden in my new restaurant which had only opened 12 weeks previously at the time. On any given night we were expecting 300 guests in for dinner of mostly trekking and expat groups from all over the world. So far so good, you might say. The thing is, I was the only person in the business who spoke English fluently and in the dining room, many of our customers spoke English as a second language. Yeah, that’s kind of a challenge. 

Now Chef, write me a menu that will sell our food. And our Wine. And Desserts. And Coffee. And breakfast tomorrow. And goes on to create repeat business through word-of-mouth. But most importantly right now, will overcome the waiter’s inability to SELL due to his shyness or his language barrier. When it’s put in those terms, you learn pretty damn quick. 

Chef Gary Jones writes his Lunch Menu 
To begin with, I guess the first question to ask is this: what is Menu Engineering? Well as expected, those boffins at Wikipedia have an answer for that, but they don’t have THE answer. Because that really depends on your business and your customers. What I can do however, is throw some perspective on how I have looked at this conundrum over the years. Up front, it’s about psychology. Behind the scenes however, it’s about growing your profits. 

If your menu is not driving sales, then tear it up and start again. You owe it to yourself, your staff and your investors.

Over the next few posts I want to address these key areas:

Just to be clear about what I mean when I ask, what is a menu?, check out my previous post and then we can look in more detail at some of those key elements in creating a sales tool that works for you.