5 ways to make more money from your menu

5 ways to make more money from your menu

Whether it’s printed, on a chalkboard or on a screen, your menu is your greatest tool and its contents can make or break your restaurant or café. 


Now more than ever, it is crucial to review every item on your menu and undertake what the boffins call menu engineering – a combination of working the numbers and getting creative with the presentation and wording of your menu offering.


Here are five pointers to get you started:


1. What’s the cost?

I hope you are already calculating the food cost of every dish on your menu. If not, you need to get onto this quick smart.

Cost every dish down to the last cent. List the ingredients and don’t forget to include spices, cooking oil and garnishes. 

To be successful, a restaurant needs to keep food costs at roughly 28-34% of the menu price. Check your costings against your prices. Look closely at any dishes with a food cost over 33%, can you either raise the price or change some of the ingredients?


2. Pick the winners

Next go back through your orders over the past month and rank your dishes from most to least popular. This list might surprise you! If you have an all-day venue it’s best to separate by service period so you are not comparing breakfast with dinner dishes.


3. Stars, Puzzles, Horses and Dogs

Once you know which dishes are profitable with low food cost, you can separate the dishes into four categories. Menu engineering specialists call these stars, puzzles, plough horses and dogs. 

Your stars are the dishes that are both profitable and popular. Keep them on the menu!

Plough horses are popular dishes that aren’t as profitable. You need these on the menu, but think about increasing the price a little, or tweaking the ingredients to decrease food cost so you can turn them into stars.

Puzzles – also known as opportunities – are dishes that are profitable, but not ordered very often. How can you make them more appealing to diners?

You can guess where this is going, dogs are the menu items that are both unpopular and unprofitable. Lose them now!


4. Content is king

Next, you need to look at the content of your menu. You may need a professional to help you with this. It is very offputting for diners if there are spelling mistakes, inconsistencies and grammar errors in your menu. Think about re-wording the dish descriptions to make them sound more appealing, especially the puzzle dishes. The position of the dish on the menu is also important, studies have shown that people notice the first and last items on a list the most. The design and layout of your menu can also direct diners’ eyes towards dishes you wish to highlight.


5. Talk to your team

Your staff are crucial in every step of this process. Waiters are your frontline salespeople, so make sure they know which dishes to promote to diners based on profitability rather than personal preference. 

Impress upon your front of house staff the importance of keeping menus clean and presentable. If the menu is dog-eared and dirty it reflects badly on the venue and your brand.

Waiters can also give you feedback on the menu, for example if multiple diners are querying the wording of a dish, it is time to change the description. Your team can also suggest dishes to diners who are ordering ‘plough horses’. 


In effect, menu is your manifesto. It tells the diner what to expect, what you serve and what it’s going to cost them. A menu sets the tone of a restaurant and communicates that you care. Or don’t. Make every word and every number on your menu count and you’ll see your profits rise.