Every restaurant introduces new items, but successful operations monitor each menu item’s performance, promote weak performers to build a customer following and remove perennial losers from the menu. Managers and chefs might not want to remove certain items that they feel have good sales or profit, so promoting these menu items is worth some promotional effort.

Suggestive Selling

Suggestive selling is the simplest way to promote a new food or slowly moving menu item. Underperformers require stocking ingredients that could go to waste, so moving slow items should be a daily effort shared among front-end staff. Suggestive selling requires that servers understand the item, its ingredients and method of preparation and approach each customer enthusiastically with a favorable recommendation. Make sure that a server asks if the customer would like help with a customer who seems unsure of the menu and doesn’t rush to promote a menu item other than a special. The customer does not have to express it, but a server can infer this by an unusually long period of time spent choosing. Other management techniques to encourage sales of a particular food include:

  • Giving away samples and offering to provide tastings
  • Promoting certain items as daily specials
  • Using certain foods as restaurant loyalty rewards
  • Offering appetizer-sized portions
  • Promoting sampler plates that include at least one underperforming item
  • Cutting prices and offering smaller portions to encourage experimentation
  • Providing items with favorable placement on menus

Tying Menu Items to Unique Stories

Telling an interesting story about ingredients, food history, cultural lore or preparation method can jump-start sales and cement item loyalty with hardcore fans. Try making a promotional tie-in with a movie, book or food trend like Denny’s did when it introduced its Middle-Earth Hobbit Menu. Find local food bloggers, and offer them a free meal in exchange for reviews, but monitor the online chatter to find out if the dish has merit and deserves continued support.

  • Include colorful descriptions and tie menu items with local farmers or suppliers.
  • Highlight items with organic or vegetarian ingredients, lower calories or heart-healthy profiles.
  • Tell interesting stories about ethnic foods including which authentic techniques the restaurant staff duplicates.
  • Offer coupons online, through the restaurant’s loyalty program or as simple fliers at the cash register that include the food’s unique story.

Menu Engineering

Menu engineering has become increasingly popular in restaurant management because the techniques help to identify underperforming items, menu stars and the most profitable items. Most restaurant owners understand food costs, but more detailed knowledge helps to determine how popularity translates to profit.

  • Information includes a list of menu items with separate evaluations for appetizers, entrées and desserts.
  • A spreadsheet tracks ingredient, preparation and waste costs of each item.
  • Periodic reports total the number of sales for each item during a specified time.
  • Menu selling price for each item generates automatic calculations of profit.
  • Comparison of sales for each item against total sales determines a popularity percentage.
  • Low popularity ratings are any items that fail to reach the restaurant’s average sales all items, and high popularity is based on how far above average each item performs.

Managers can use this information to deal with challenges and determine which items to try to make more popular or more profitable. Menu engineering includes replating, renaming, changing ingredients or trying to build a following for potential high-profit makers.

Good restaurant management involves trying to introduce new items, promote underperforming foods and remove items that continually fall short in profitability or popularity. Make a fair effort to rescue underperforming foods, but don’t continue to support weak dishes forever. Remove items promptly if sales fail to attract active support from customers after a reasonable trial period. Customers deserve menu items that are lively, move quickly to ensure freshness and don’t get pulled after years of availability.