Do the Math

Menu engineering is all about the numbers.

Illustration of mathematical formulas over blurry green background.
Menu math isn't as tough as this—we promise. / Copyright: Daniil Peshkov

For Kendra Anderson, 2020 was one endless pivot that culminated in the closure of her beloved Bar Helix. If she pursues a new bar concept in the future, Anderson says she’ll be laser-focused on maintaining more predictable revenues. “I’ll look at a prix fixe or cost-engineered menu,” she says. “I’ll never take check average for granted again.”

Brian Kerby, a restaurant operations consultant with US Foods, believes it’s more important than ever for operators to critically evaluate their menus. “No matter the size or sophistication of the [restaurant] group, menu engineering is where I find the greatest and quickest revenue gains. It’s the easiest money people can make.” 

Start With Data

Nail down the complete cost sheet for every single dish and drink, including garnishes. Then, make sure each item is properly entered in the POS system. Kerby notes many spots skip this step for speed during service, but it’s essential in order to see—and analyze—your sales mix.


Once you have your cost and POS metrics, says Kerby, “You’ve got everything you need. You might realize you’re selling a lot of something that isn’t as profitable as other things.”


Your most profitable items should live at the top of your menu. This applies to takeout menus, too. “When people order online, they don’t want to wade through [the full menu],” Kerby maintains. “Get to the things you really want to sell (and that make the most money) right away.”

Consider Incremental Adds

Make it easy for folks to upgrade to a more expensive cheese, to sub a top-shelf liquor, or even add a fanciful garnish option for an upcharge.

Be Careful With the New

Obsessed with adding more to the menu? Beware of poaching, which happens when a new item steals quantity sales from staples that generate better gross profit dollars. 

Balance Business and Innovation

Operators should determine the minimum gross profit they want items to deliver at each price point. Chefs and bartenders can then do an accurate cost sheet of a new item, and as long as it meets the requirements, get as creative as they please. 

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