December 23, 2009

menu engineering

I tend to think of an engineer as a person who builds bridges, works on noise control in airplanes or on the stabilization of slopes. However, today I came across engineering of a different kind: Menu engineers have no particular knowledge of math, technology, or science, they specialize in creating restaurant menus that diners find appealing and that make them order expensive items. Tip #1: Don't write the dollar sign on the menu.
After Tabla merged with its downstairs sibling, the Bread Bar at Tabla, in October, Mr. Meyer and his team spent months pondering such matters before unveiling a new menu earlier this month. The price of Boodie’s chicken livers, for example, is $9, written simply as 9. This is a friendly and manageable number at a time when numbers really need to be friendly and manageable. Besides, it has no dollar sign. In the world of menu engineering and pricing, a dollar sign is pretty much the worst thing you can put on a menu, particularly at a high-end restaurant. Not only will it scream “Hello, you are about to spend money!” into a diner’s tender psyche, but it can feel aggressive and look tacky. So can price formats that end in the numeral 9, as in $9.99, which tend to signify value but not quality, menu consultants and researchers say.
Menu engineering? Menu tweaking more likely. But "Menu Tweaker" just doesn't look so great on a business card.

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