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home | MenuMakeover(sm) | Menu Makeover - You . . .

Menu Makeover - You Only Have One Chance to Make a First Impression -

Murray's Irish Pub & Grille; Menominee, Michigan

Mark Laux

The very best time to introduce a new, well-engineered and well-designed menu is the day you open your doors. Now, I'm a menu design-engineer, so it should be little shock that I would say that. But that doesn't change the fact that you have one chance to make a great first impression. And the very first time your guests eat at your new restaurant is the only time they will have an open mind. And an open mind is your best opportunity to showcase the items that will make your new restaurant an urban legend.

When developing your menu for the first time, you will want to consider what you want to be known for. When I ask restaurant operators about that, I get the standard drivel: "Everything on the menu is good. If it wasn't, I wouldn't offer it," or some junk along those lines. Well, that may be so, but there are items that will make you more money than others, and some items that will be brand-defining and others that won't. You can either build your brand on purpose, or it will happen by accident. And a train wreck is what happens by accident.

So here's something to consider before you dust off your word processor and start clacking away: Your customers will spend more time with your menu than they will with your servers … or you for that matter. And they will make a decision about your restaurant and what to eat based on what the menu looks like and what they read on the menu.

First, Start With 2 Million…

Tim Murray is the proprietor of Murray's Irish Pub & Grille and a very successful businessperson with a number of thriving enterprises. He mentioned that he wanted to open a new restaurant and asked if I could help him develop the menu. I asked him if he knew how to make a million dollars in the restaurant business. He said, "Yeah, start with two million." I said we'd do it.

Tim gave us a lot of creative control -- not just over the menu, but also over many of the items on the menu. Within the theme of his Irish pub concept, Tim was open to lots of ideas. His real concern was making the business a success, and he quickly shifted from what he wanted to what the business would need to start strong and grow. Not surprisingly, the two desires are many times at odds, but for Tim, he wanted expert opinions and balanced that well with his personal taste.

Since the menu and restaurant were both new, we couldn't do a menu matrix (a report that analyzes food cost, selling price and sales volume to generate a report that identifies the best potential on the menu, and discover the categories that can be fine-tuned to help enhance profitability). There wasn't any history to calculate, just theoretic food costs. So we looked at the items based on their potential to cover overhead, and we focused on the items with better-than-average profit potential in each section of the menu. Because the restaurant was new, we had a great opportunity to showcase the items we would like to become stars over time.

Design-Engineering Recommendations for Murray's

The restaurant changed names a few times during the course of opening up but, overall, the concept didn't change. One of Tim's relatives was a Green Bay football player in the early days, and Tim thought it would be great to showcase some of his old newspaper clippings. The sepia clippings dictated the overall background color of the menu, which works well, since we need a muted tone that will allow for white or bright highlights. The green and black logo set off nicely against the background offers an upscale, yet casual look. Appetizers. As we started to lay out the menu, we wanted to incorporate some Irish fare, but we needed to keep in mind the audience in the local Michigan area as well. So along with the Murray's Rarebit, we also included many fried standards that tend to sell well. We highlighted the Rarebit because of its profit potential, the quality of the item and its plate presentation.


By positioning the appetizers on the back of the menu, we were able to get the servers (in most cases) to place the menu with the appetizers facing up and then point them out to customers. This helps to garner the appetizer sale early on and builds incremental check totals.

Entrées. Tim wanted pizza on his menu because there are few pizza restaurants in the local area. I'm a little suspect of pizza, in most cases, because even though it's not usually expensive to make, it is most often shared. Therefore it is not as profitable per person as other items on the menu. But in this case, the client is king, so we added pizza on the back along with the appetizers.

Because the 18-ounce porterhouse is the item Tim wanted to showcase, we highlighted it toward the top of the righthand page. Studies have been done to determine the eye flow patterns on a menu, so we gave the steak one of the best locations to enhance its success.


Across the top of the page on the lefthand side are traditional Irish items. This is the third-best location on the menu, so we put items there with a high profit potential and a better-than-average brand potential.

Sandwiches and wraps. We positioned the sandwiches and wraps in the third- and fourth-hottest locations on the menu and highlighted the Dublin Double Decker Burger and The Lumber Baron. Both of these items have a much higher average consumer potential and both enhance the nature of the business.

Odds and ends. The rest of the menu was reserved for items with either brand potential or their mental anchoring abilities. Not everything on a menu is a firstchoice item and, in this case, we wanted to place some items that would help make other items sell well. Like a dress shop offering accessories and add-on items, we wanted to help take downpressure off prices and make sure all of the local favorites were covered.

Desserts. We recommended a separate dessert menu, and Tim agreed. The best time to sell dessert is when the guest is hungry, before they've had time to eat a meal. Dessert menus placed on the table and left there will go a long way toward helping promote dessert. I often talk to operators who say they would rather not sell dessert, but would rather turn the table instead. In those very rare cases when you can't handle the dessert business, simply take the dessert menus off the tables, and the amount of dessert sales will go down substantially. And remember, dessert is incremental, which means all you need to do is take out the food cost, and the rest goes into your pocket. The Launch Tim launched his restaurant a few months back, and when I talked to him about how it was going, I got the standard successful operator reply: With a sly grin he said, "It's going great. I wish I'd done it sooner."


Mental Anchoring

There is one time in a person's life when they are most likely to spend the most money at a restaurant. And that day is the day they buy a house.At least that's according to a bit of research done by American Demographics a few years back. According to the research, the thinking is,"I just went hundreds of thousands in debt,what's another few hundred dollars."

At first blush that seems more amusing than helpful,but with some deeper consideration,it's actually one of the single most helpful bits of information I can give you.Because it tells you something very critical about how people think about money. The single hardest item to sell on any menu is the most expensive item. And it doesn't matter what it is, or what the concept is. It could be a $3 burger on a dollar menu or, in this case, the $31.99 prime rib on Murray's menu.

Consumers are going to stall out at the top end of the menu. Note, the item on the menu: In 1950, stock options for the Green Bay Packers were sold for $25.00 each and raised $50,000.00.Compare that to the $24,000,000.00 raised in 1998 and dinner for two sounds really reasonable! We developed a mental anchor point at $24,000,000 to keep things in perspective. When a person compares the $31.99 prime rib to a $24M valuation on stock options, they suddenly feel cheap, thinking the prime rib seems expensive.

So they become more inclined to order up, rather than down.We've used this technique on countless menus, each with the same result: more top-end sales. Studies have been done to determine the eye-flow patterns on a menu, so we gave the steak the best location to enhance its success. You'll see that because the 18-ounce Porterhouse is the item the owner wanted to showcase, we highlighted it near the top of the right hand page, the number "1" place the eye tends to move toward when reading a menu. Across the top of the page on the left-hand side are traditional Irish items. This is the third-best location on the menu, so we put items there with a high profit potential and a better-than-average brand potential.

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