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How to Optimize Your Restaurant's Menu for Maximum Profit

Coral Drake | June 27, 2024 |

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How to Optimize Your Restaurant's Menu for Maximum Profit

Your restaurant's menu is so much more than a list of food and drink options. The way you optimize menu design and content influences consumer decisions and sales. 

From item placement to color and font choices, every detail impacts your customers' choices. Menus can steer customers towards profitable dishes, avoid misunderstandings that hurt the customer experience, and upsell on side dishes, desserts, drinks, etc.

Here’s how to take advantage of the full potential of your menu, from understanding the psychology of menu design to leveraging effective pricing strategies.

Optimize Your Restaurant's Menu for Maximum Profit

Understanding the psychology in how your customers interact with your menu can significantly boost your restaurant's sales and make for happier customers. Let's dive into some key elements that can help you optimize your menu:


Where do your eyes go first when you’re looking at a restaurant menu? Most people tend to look at the first and last items in a section, a phenomenon known as the "serial position effect." By placing your high-profit items in these spots, you can subtly nudge customers towards ordering them.

Optimize menu organization so it's easy to navigate. Make your menu “skimmable” by grouping similar items together and using clear headings. 

Colors and Visuals

Colors play a vital role in stimulating appetite and creating a sense of urgency. In fact, a study from the University of Winnipeg suggests that people form their opinions within the first 90 seconds of interacting with people or products, and remarkably, 62-90% of this initial judgment is based on color alone. 

For instance, warm hues like red and orange can make customers feel hungrier and encourage quicker decisions, which would be great for a takeout menu where you want orders to happen fast. 

On the other hand, cooler colors like blue and green may slow customers down and cause them to consider their options more carefully, ideal for a gourmet bistro menu where prices are high and you want customers to take their time to consider upsell offers. 

Use images that accurately represent dishes and capture their full deliciousness. Avoid overwhelming the menu with too many images. Select key dishes to feature with photos, so each image stands out and looks right with the overall design of your menu.

Written Content

Every word matters on a menu. You want to entice customers, but too many words can be distracting and make the menu look cluttered. 

Choose your words carefully, using sensory-rich language that describes the flavors, textures, and aromas in detail along with listing the main ingredients. Instead of a bland "Grilled chicken," try enticing customers with "Juicy, tender grilled chicken seasoned with our secret blend of herbs and spices." 

If you have room, incorporate stories about the inspiration, unique cooking methods, or special ingredients of a dish to optimize menu impact. For example: “Juicy, tender grilled chicken seasoned with our secret blend of herbs and spices passed down through generations.” Stories stick in the mind and add a sense of tradition that lends exclusivity to the menu item. 

How prices are written matters too. Incredibly, the seemingly insignificant decision to leave dollar signs and decimals off of your prices can make them seem less expensive. According to a Cornell University report, customers tend to spend more when the prices are listed this way​​. 

On the other hand, a study published in the Journal of Retailing found that ending prices in .99 can make them appear more attractive and affordable.

Pricing and Item Inclusion

It doesn’t matter how great your menu content and design are if the pricing isn’t in line with customer expectations or is too low to maintain profitability. 

Regularly analyze your pricing strategy to ensure it remains both competitive and profitable:

Market Research

Conduct thorough market research to find the balance between attractiveness and profitability and optimize menu prices. Start by analyzing the pricing strategies of similar restaurants in your area. 

Look at their prices, portion sizes, and how they position their high-profit items. Consider customer demographics and their willingness to pay for certain dishes. Tools like surveys and focus groups offer insights into customer price sensitivity. 

Regularly check competitors' pricing, promotions, and customer reviews while keeping an eye on broader economic trends that could affect your pricing strategy, such as changes in food costs or economic downturns.

Identifying High and Low-Performing Items

Use sales data to identify trends and adjust prices accordingly. Break down different menu sections and items and assess their individual performance. Look for patterns in customer ordering behavior and identify which items are both popular and profitable. 

Tracking the cost of ingredients, preparation time, and portion sizes for each dish is essential to optimize menu items

  • High Performers: These are the stars of your menu. They're popular and they bring in big profits. Make sure these dishes are easy to spot on your menu by highlighting them with a special border or feature box.
  • Low Performers: Items that aren't selling well or don't have good profit margins need a closer look. Consider adjusting the price, using less-expensive ingredients, or revamping the recipe. Sometimes, a small tweak can turn a dud into a favorite.

Remove items that aren’t offering a good profit margin, but be careful not to remove popular items that customers will miss. Adding a new item when you remove an old one is a great strategy to keep customers happy and optimize menu items. 

Special Considerations for Different Menu Types

When you're looking at a special menu like a catering menu or takeout menu, you have to think about how well the food travels and holds up over time. Your high performers at the restaurant might not be best for travel.

By making a specific menu catering to these needs, you can save customers from disappointment and maintain high profit-margins on these services. 

Your restaurant's menu, catering menu, and takeout menu should all work together to showcase your best dishes for each service and keep your customers coming back for more.

Make a Profitable Menu

Effective menu optimization depends on understanding your customer’s psychology and the data on your own customer behavior and your competitors.

Revel, a Shift4 company, offers a number of tools to help you analyze your data to optimize menu design and offerings. 

Your menu matters. Optimize your menu and increase your profitability with these data-based insights for menu design and organization.