The Biggest Menu Mistake of All Time

I call it the “Price List Line Up”. You’ve seen it hundreds of times. The menu item listed in bold followed by a series of dots leading to the price—all right hand justified and easy to read.

Oven Roasted Prime Rib………………………………$19.95
USDA Choice Prime Rib slow roasted served
with choice of blah blah blah.

Pork Tenderloin………...…...…...…………………... .$14.95
Moist pork tenderloin served
with more choices of blah blah blah.

The problem with prices being lined up and right hand justified is this—consumers, some by accident and some by design, tend to shop by price first and product second. The line up makes it easy and almost irresistible to make menu selections based on price, or perceived value, first and product description second. Now this doesn’t mean your customers will always buy the least expensive product in a menu category, it just means they will be looking at price points first and product selection second.

The menu’s job is to market your product—to maximize sales of your most profitable items. In other words the menu is the commercial for selling your stuff! Unfortunately many operators view the menu as a decorative price list and not the powerful marketing piece it can be. Your menu should be seen as a marketing vehicle to maximize sales and not just a line item on your P&L wedged between linen and postage.

So where should the price go? Well operating under the premise the menu is a marketing tool to sell your product the price should go at the end of the menu item’s description. Studies have shown consumers perceive prices to be high when they price is presented in bold font and preceded by a dollar sign. The sequence is this; Menu item in bold font, underneath mouth watering description with a few adjectives and finally the price in the same font as the description. No dots. No bold font. No right hand justified. No dollar sign. The technique is called embedded pricing. Please note this method is not designed to trick or deceive your guest, but merely to place the emphasis on the food first and the price second.

Oven Roasted Prime Rib
USDA Choice Prime Rib slow roasted. Insert more mouth
watering words here 19.95

Pork Tenderloin
Moist pork tenderloin served with your choice of really yummy
stuff 14.95

I guarantee when applied correctly this technique can increase your guest check average without having to raise your prices.

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Tags: design, engineering, layout, marketing, menu, profit, restaurant

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Comment by Sara Hohn on September 15, 2008 at 9:25am
Great post!

On a somewhat related note, there was an interesting article this summer in Time magazine about a study of diners' perceptions of restaurant menu typefaces, font sizes and descriptions.

A couple of quotes:

"To conduct one of her experiments, Song compared the responses of subjects exposed to menu descriptions typed in a simple Arial font with responses from those exposed to identical dish descriptions in a harder-to-read Mistral font. Subjects in the latter group were more likely to conclude that the dish was hard to prepare and required great skill."

"Allen recommends using sans-serif fonts and few capital letters. He instructs managers to draw diners' eyes to the most profitable items on a three-panel menu by positioning those golden dishes in three key places: the center of the middle page and the top-right and top-left corners, which he calls the sweet spots. In addition to avoiding bad translations, Allen says chefs should use simple language when possible."


I'll Have That Typeface On the Menu
Comment by Trip Kadey on September 12, 2008 at 8:46am
This is good sound advice. It is also taught by the Menu Engineering Master - Gregg Rap

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