On the plate is a grilled filet mignon drizzled with garlic herb butter. It’s been paired with delicate green beans and roasted russet potatoes seasoned to perfection.

Considering food costs and average profit margin, it’s been properly priced. So why, after a month on the menu, isn’t more of the delicious beef leaving the kitchen?

Taking a look at the menu, the steak is the restaurant’s most expensive dish by more than $15. It’s also being offered at a family-friendly establishment, and customers probably don’t come in expecting to spend that much.

By the rules of menu engineering, that expensive slab of cow is actually the restaurant’s biggest dog.

What is menu engineering?

According to a Gallup poll, the average diner spends 109 seconds looking at a menu. That leaves restaurants and bars less than two minutes to catch a customer’s eye with their tasty, and hopefully most profitable, offerings. Optimizing how an establishment’s dishes and drinks are presented can help pull in more orders, and in turn, more profit.

Menu engineering uses food and ingredient costs, menu prices and profit margins to decide how to design a menu, writes Toast. It also sheds valuable light on what dishes and drinks make customers’ mouths water, and which items are better left in the walk-in.

One of the first steps to a better-engineered menu is to study the popularity and profitability of each dish and drink. Most restaurants’ point-of-sale systems calculate food and profit totals for each item, as well as how many are ordered in a specific time frame.

Find your moneymakers

After popularity and profitability have been calculated, each item can be placed into one of four categories:

Stars represent menu items with high profitability and high popularity. They’re guest favorites and have excellent profit margins. Keep them consistent, promote them as much as possible on the menu and via social media, and make them highly visible on the menu, Toast writes.

Puzzles have high profitability but aren’t very popular. Solving puzzle menu items requires finding out why the dish or drink isn’t selling. Is it being properly promoted, either on the menu or social media? Is the price too high?

Plowhorses have low profitability but are highly popular. With these items, try to make them cheaper to prepare, Toast says. See if expensive ingredients can be swapped out for cheaper ones, or make them more attractive by pairing them with another menu item. Decreasing portion size can also cut down on costs.

Dogs lag with both low profitability and popularity. These are usually costly items that don’t attract much attention from guests. Try re-inventing these items or making them less visible on the menu.

Once each item has been categorized, they can be plotted on a chart. The Y-axis will represent popularity, and the X-axis will represent profitability. Drawing a line through the items shows whether a menu’s offerings are offering more stars, puzzles, plowhorses or dogs.

Making your menu a success

Those findings can guide the layout of a menu. While it’s important to highlight profitable items like stars and puzzles, other items can be boosted with an exciting description. Dishes and drinks are also likely to draw the eye when placed on the top left, top right or center of the menu.

Checking in with restaurant and bar staff is an important gauge of the menu’s success. Because they interact directly with customers, they likely already know the menu’s most popular items and may have ideas on how to make other dishes and drinks into better sellers.

Finally, run the numbers. A few months after a revamp, analyze how the menu’s stars, puzzles, plowhorses and dogs are faring. The layout may still require a few tweaks.

Using tech to engineer your menu

Hospitality management software Craftable can take the time and guesswork out of the menu engineering process. The tool offers real-time cost and profit calculators for food and beverages and keeps track of top-sellers.

Craftable also syncs directly with more than 60 point-of-sale and accounting platforms, including Toast, Upserve, Clover and Union. The integration allows restaurant and bar owners to immediately calculate margins on units sold.

Users can then use the data to adjust menus quickly, rather than waiting until the end of the month and using valuable time to figure out their best and worst sellers.

Craftable can help stars shine brighter, solve puzzles, drive plowhorses and lead the pack to profitability with dogs.

Whether you’re serving delicious dishes or cheers-worthy cocktails, Craftable can help optimize your menu. Sign up for a free trial and start engineering your offerings toward popularity profitability.