Those in the know (or those who have read our Menu Engineering 101 blog) have tucked menu engineering into their back pockets as a profit-increasing tactic. However, knowing about menu engineering and effectively practicing it are two different things. Rather than allow your data to become a paperweight on your digital desk, let’s answer that all-too-important question: what next? 

Menu Engineering: A Recap

As a reminder, menu engineering is the practice of measuring individual recipe profitability and popularity as it relates to sales. Using that data, all menu items are categorized into one of 4 categories: 

  • Star
  • Puzzle
  • Workhorse
  • & Dog 

Operators can then adjust their menus based on this categorization to maximize profit. But what are these adjustments, you ask? Each category presents an opportunity for shifts in strategy. These revisions help operators guide customers to quality dishes by driving purchasing decisions. Everybody wins! 

Let’s begin with the four categories.

Nobody Puts Star in the Corner

Categories are determined based on a high/low relationship to profitability and popularity. Menu revisions mainly revolve around raising a low status to a high status or increasing visibility on high stat items. Accessing this data can be a headache without providers like Craftable revealing your dogs and stars, but it is the first step in menu engineering. Though no strategy can be universally applied, operators can often find success in utilizing similar tactics when addressing dishes in the same category. 


Star = High Profitability + High Popularity 

Stars are already doing the work, so the strategy here is simply allowing them to shine as bright as possible. 

The Golden Triangle tells us that customer eyes are drawn to the center of a menu first, followed by the top right, then the top left. Customers also tend to order the top two items in menu sections more often. These areas are your prime real estate, the Super Bowl commercial slots of your menu if you will. 

By designating stars to these areas, operators ensure customers both new and old can enjoy signature items. With these dishes turning high profit margins, operators can enjoy it, too. 


Puzzle = High Profitability + Low Popularity 

These items turn a nice profit when they sell, but sell less often than operators would like. Your puzzles might: 

  • Be the hidden gems of your menus and benefit from a bit of spotlight with your stars in a promotion
  • Feature a controversial ingredient that turns away sheepish eaters and need a substitution
  • Lack an eye-grabbing description and require a rewrite
  • Present an entirely different sort of issue

Perhaps you’re beginning to see why “puzzle” is such an apt title. 

The goal here is not to eliminate puzzles–all menus contain each of the categories and will continue to do so after successful menu engineering. Rather, operators can implement strategies to maximize profit by understanding recipe needs. Puzzles require you to capture why an item isn’t selling before you revise. 


Workhorse = Low Profitability + High Popularity 

Workhorses don’t warrant changes on the physical menu to increase popularity. Instead, changes can happen behind the scenes to bump profitability. One of the easiest changes is upselling with customizable add-ons and paired puzzles

Educating servers on when and what to upsell balances the stats of your workhorses and, given their high popularity, provides your employees with plenty of practice on a proven tactic. 

This doesn’t mean operators must forgo exciting menu changes where workhorses are concerned. These items provide an incredibly valuable piece of information: the sort of dishes customers crave. As operators design new dishes, they can use workhorse qualities paired with more profitable ingredients and add a few more stars to their floor. 


Dog = Low Profitability + Low Popularity 

It’s an unfortunate truth that dogs are unavoidable in the restaurant industry. However, unless a dog features specialty ingredients the kitchen isn’t using in other dishes, there’s no need to erase them from your menu. 

Be sure dogs aren’t occupying the Golden Triangle, aren’t featured in promotions, and use the information they provide similarly to that given by workhorses. 

You cannot rid your restaurant of dogs, but you can minimize the impact they have on your profitability. 

Get Engineering! 

Menu engineering is all about working with what you already have in order to maximize both customer and operator benefits. Again, it’s important to note no menu will be all stars and some items will take more individualized attention than that listed here. However, once you begin building your direct relationship with popularity and profitability, you attain more agency in your results than ever before. 

Let data be your oil and heat. Now you’re cooking!