Hotel Online  Special Report

 Power of the Menu; Increasing Profitability Through
the Layout, Design, and Pricing
Menus Future: Strange Meat Cuts, New Placement
and More Descriptions for 2004

February 9, 2004 - Many restaurants are changing where items are located on menus to increase or decrease sales, and they are strategically pricing items ending with round numbers or ".95" to underscore the image of their restaurants. These are some of the findings from Gregg Rapp, a Menu Engineer and Consultant who recently spoke with hundreds of restaurateurs around the country.

Rapp is known for increasing profitability through the layout, design, and pricing of menus. American Express recently offered their Restaurant Merchants a complimentary Menu Engineering Review with Rapp through their restaurant newsletter. Rapp spoke with over 300 operators from Anchorage to Florida, Maine to Texas!

"The response was overwhelming but I learned that many questions and challenges kept appearing. It was amazing that the same questions kept coming up," Rapp said.

Meat prices skyrocketed last year so many of the restaurateurs wanted to know how to down-sell meat items and move the sales to seafood. Rapp explained that placing the Seafood Category in the first place consumers' eyes will go, on the right side at the top of the page, will result in an increase in Seafood sales.

Rapp also advised adding descriptive copy to seafood items to increase sales. Also, in response to an increase in meat prices, "I heard a lot of operators getting more creative with less known, cheaper cuts of meats," Rapp says. "A few years ago when Baby Back Rib prices skyrocketed, the trend was to sell a cheaper cut of St. Louis Ribs. We are now seeing this throughout meat sections of the menus. For example, Flank Steak is used with signature flavors and tastes to create new dishes. You will also see less expensive steaks show up with Asian sauces, Midwest Chutneys or Caribbean Marinades. We talked about these as alternatives to the more expensive cuts."

"Almost everyone asked about pricing. The question asked most often was whether they should end prices with a '.95' or with '.00'." Rapp's answer was that the ".00" ending is a "harder" price and the ".95" feels "softer." "I call the harder pricing format as 'pricing with an attitude'. Remember that the '.88 or .64' is Wal-Mart pricing or discounted pricing," Rapp states. "Restaurateurs should match their pricing format with their concept to keep the message clear about who they are."

"Bundling -- when drinks, sides and sometimes appetizers and desserts are included in a meal -- came up often. The lesson to learn from this is that restaurateurs will increase check average, with bundling.

McDonalds has taught us how to order by number or 'bundle'. When a customer just reads off a number to order an inclusive meal, then he/she is more apt to order more add-on items, increasing the overall profitability," says Rapp. Dinner house menus use the same tools calling them Prix Fixe or Table d'Hote, but basically, "Priced Fixed" menus help an operator increase profitability, Rapp says.

Whether wine should be included on the menu or on a separate list was another question that often came up.

"I tell people to put the wine list on every menu so everyone will see it and possibly order wine," says Rapp. Rapp advises and notes that wine lists are evolving into information centers for wine, not just a price list that was the old standard.

Restaurant operators wanted to know how to react to the Atkins Diet -- especially the low-carb menu items that some chains and independents are offering. Rapp suggested a separate section or separate menu for these items. "This is a handshake, like a children's menu or a senior's menu. It says we welcome your special needs or wants. Adding a separate menu shows a commitment to such a targeted group," Rapp comments.

Better descriptions of menu items increase sales by 27%, Rapp reminded restaurateurs from a University of Illinois study. Plus, he says, longer descriptions add more perceived value to a menu item. "You will sell more and entice future visits by adding descriptive copy to your menu," Rapp informs.

Of the interviews with restaurateurs, Gregg said that he promised a 15-minute menu review but, "I seem to talk a lot and each conference lasted almost an hour," he says. "You could hear the operators light up as they learned about their individual menus."

"We followed Gregg's advice and we can feel the difference instantly in our restaurant," says Bob Jones, a California restaurant owner. "When the price of veal went from $9.65 a pound to over $15.00 in a matter of months, we knew we had to change our menu. With Gregg's help we have moved sections around, boxed and described our items better and we are watching the increase in our profits. It feels great that we know the power of the menu."

Gregg Rapp, Menu Engineer
[email protected]

Also See: Necessity Is the Mother of Invention - The Leadership and Problem Solving Skills Required in the Development of Sheerwater Restaurant, Hotel Del Coronado / June 2000
Menu Development and Analysis / July 2000

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