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The Value of Menu Merchandising

Most restaurant operators do everything they can to promote their restaurants. They focus on maintaining immaculately clean buildings. They do their best to recruit, develop, and retain highly personable team members who serve guests in a timely manner. They constantly monitor the quality of the food and beverages. They even go the extra mile by participating in community and charity events that raise the awareness of their restaurants. Successful restaurant operators understand the value of all of these things, but unfortunately, many restaurant operators do not understand the value of menu merchandising.

What is Menu Merchandising

According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant operators have about three minutes to impress guests with the design, layout, and content of their menus. Menus comprise the second most powerful tool that restaurant operators have to market their products. While team members typically influence what your guests order, restaurant menus, if merchandised correctly, can be a factor in determining how much your guests will spend.

Successful restaurant operators merchandise menus to define the concept, align customer expectations to match the dining experience, and utilize a powerful marketing tool that attracts customer attention. Menu merchandising goes a long way towards determining customer satisfaction, profitability, and restaurant longevity.

Key Elements of Menus that Sell


They say a picture is worth a thousands words and the adage applies to menu merchandising. You can write the most descriptive copy for menu items, but your writing prowess will not sell menu items as well as professionally shot photographs. Your servers can use descriptive terms such as succulent, steamy, and hearty to describe a vegetable soup, but a photograph that displays steam rising from a bowl of soup that contains succulent looking vegetables and a hearty broth does more to sway your guests.


The first few lines of a novel largely determines if a reader is moved enough to read the rest of the book. Your menu design has the same purpose as the first few lines of a novel: excite your guests to learn more about your food and beverage offerings. Menu designs do not have to be loud and bright to provoke interest. The color scheme should mirror the color scheme of the restaurant. If in doubt, use darker colors that convey an aura of tranquility. Loud colors can overload a customer’s senses.

Cleanliness and Appearance

Remember how you felt the last time a host handed you a sticky menu or a menu that got its color from assorted food particles. Your restaurant menu can have a visually appealing design, poignant photographs, and highly descriptive content, but your guests will not notice these things after a host hands them a dirty menu. Many corporate chains make wiping down menus a part of opening or closing sidework. In addition, menus that display torn edges, cracked material, or faded colors present an unprofessional image.


We spend time and resources to teach our service team to upsell menu items, yet we ignore the most important upselling tool in our restaurants. The most effective menu upselling strategies include listing call and premium brand liquors in the alcoholic beverage section and presenting guests with entrée add on options. For instance, a steak entrée can include add on options, such as chicken and shrimp, to help increase sales. You can create signature cocktails that use call or premium brand name liquors in the ingredients. Menu upsells are often more subtle that server upsells, which increases the likelihood that guests will add on to their menu choices.

Arrangement of Menu Items

Restaurant operators have several options for arranging items on their menus. A popular strategy is to highlight the menu items that return higher profit margins. This means operators must compute the costs of each menu item, before they devise the structure and style of their menus. Corporate restaurant chains prominently display house specialties and popular menu items at the beginning of each menu section. Many restaurants use descriptive icons to alert guests of features and house specialties. Another common tactic is to mix it up by changing the positioning of menu sections. Instead of listing menu sections in the order of appetizers, soups and salads, entrees, and deserts, a restaurant operator can place the entrée section near the top of the first menu page. Some operators devote an entire section to house features and specialties. Inserts provide an excellent way to communicate restaurant menu promotions.

The Bottom Line

Spend time learning the various techniques restaurant operators use in the design of their menus. Menus that direct the attention of guests to specific items increase the probability that diners will select those items. Consider the preparation difficulty level of your menu items. Some menu items require multiple steps that involve more than one kitchen station. These menu items take longer to prepare and you should not highlight the long ticket time items on your menu. After all, table turns play an important role in determining sales.

The value of menu merchandising will translate into increased sales for your restaurant. By providing clean menus that project favorable images, you will entice your guests to buy menu items that you want them to buy. Menu merchandising requires planning and the assembly of a team that can design the type of menu that reflects the image of your restaurant.