Menu Engineering: A Glossary of Menu Terms to Know

By: Kendal Austin

4 Minute Read

Nov 17, 2017

You must have Javascript enabled in order to submit forms on our website. If you'd like to contact Toast please call us at:

(857) 301-6002


Just so you know, we’ll handle your info according to our privacy statement.

Menu Engineering Glossary


Menu engineering and design are hot topics in the restaurant industry right now. Restaurateurs are becoming increasingly aware of the impact that a strategic and data-driven menu can have on their bottom line. Maybe they're inserting visual cues to draw attention or calculating costs down to the ounce. Either way, it's clear menus are no longer simply a list of dishes.

With this new wave of menu research comes a lot of terms that are becoming more commonplace in the restaurant industry. Here's a brief index of what you'll need to know to re-engineer your menu for maximum profitability. 

BONUS: Menu Engineering Bootcamp

It's time to get your menu into shape. Enroll in Menu Engineering Bootcamp for 5 lessons and 50+ tips on menu engineering and restaurant menu design. This course is free, and you can start whenever you're ready. Start Your 30-Day Course

15 Restaurant Menu Engineering Terms

Menu Engineering

The study and optimization of a menu based on the popularity and profitability of menu items. Menu engineering is a data-driven practice restaurant owners use to increase revenue and reduce waste.

Menu Design

 A subset of menu engineering focused on the visual science and appeal of a restaurant’s menu. Menu design should reflect a restaurant’s brand and personality while taking into account consumer psychology and visual aesthetics.


The core associations that a consumer has with a business. A restaurant’s “brand” is the first thing that comes to mind when a guest hears the name. It’s often the components that set this business apart from others.

Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)

A mathematical equation to determine the cost required to create each of the food and beverage items on the menu. It is the sum of beginning and purchased inventory subtracted by final inventory. COGS is particularly important for menu engineering because lowering it has a direct correlation to a more profitable restaurant.

Food Cost Percentage

A mathematical equation that calculates the percentage of a menu item cost that the restaurant takes as profit. It’s calculated by dividing the cost to create the menu item by the price of the item. The difference is the percentage that the restaurant makes on each sale of that item.

Contribution Margin

A mathematical equation that measures a menu item’s profitability over time. By subtracting food costs within a certain time period from menu item sales within that same period, restaurateurs can use this metric to measure how sales affect income and how costs are affected over time.


The quadrant of items in a menu engineering chart that are both highly profitable and highly popular. These are the items that should be consistent on the menu and used in promotions whenever possible.


The quadrant of items in a menu engineering chart that are very popular but not very profitable for the business. These are likely the items that guests expect to see, but may need to have ingredients or portion size modified to improve margin. 


The quadrant of items in a menu engineering chart that are highly profitable to the restaurant but aren’t popular with guests. These are potentially hidden gems that need to be reinvented by lowering prices, changing their position on the menu, or packaging them a different way.


The quadrant of items in a menu engineering chart that are neither popular or profitable. Most likely, these items should be removed from your menu and replaced with more profitable dishes.

Menu Psychology

The application of consumer behavior theories to menu design. Menu item organization, placement, and visual cues can be strategically implemented based on what we know about human psychology. 

Paradox of Choice

The theory that more choices can actually lead to increased confusion and poor decisions. In menu engineering, studies have shown that there is a sweet spot between too few and too many choices.

Decoy Effect

A psychological phenomenon that says people are more likely to change their preference between two options when a third, less appealing option, is introduced to show the “value” of the most expensive option. In menu engineering, this is the science of bundling options to improve their perceived value.

Semantic Salience

The impact that a symbol has on a particular situation or decision-making process. This is often used to define the impact that a dollar sign on a menu item (or lack thereof) has on the perceived value.

Sensory Descriptors

Words and phrases that appeal directly to a person’s sight, smell, hearing, taste, or feeling. These words, like “succulent,” “smooth,” and “aromatic,” are often used in menu item descriptions to draw out a specific reaction from the guest.

What other unusual terms have you come across during your menu analysis? Share your helpful terms in the comments below.

Now that you're familiar with the key terms, get started revamping your menu for maximum profitability. Start the 30-Day Menu Engineering Bootcamp today. 



You must have Javascript enabled in order to submit forms on our website. If you'd like to contact Toast please call us at:

(857) 301-6002

First and Last Name is required
Phone Number is required
Restaurant Name is required
What is your role? is required
Yes, I’d like a demo of Toast, a restaurant technology platform.
Yes, I'd like a demo of Toast is required

Just so you know, we’ll handle your info according to our privacy statement.

DISCLAIMER: All of the information contained on this site (the “Content”) is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal, accounting, tax, career or other professional advice. The Content is provided “as-is” without any warranty of any kind express or implied, including without limitation any warranty as to the accuracy, quality, timeliness, or completeness of the Content, or fitness for a particular purpose; Toast assumes no liability for your use of, or reference to the Content. By accessing this site, you acknowledge and agree that: (a) there may be delays in updating, omissions, or inaccuracies in the Content, (b) the Content should not be relied upon or used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal advisors, (c) you should not perform any act or make any omission on the basis of any Content without first seeking appropriate legal or professional advice on the particular facts or circumstances at issue and (d) you are solely responsible for your compliance with all applicable laws. If you do not agree with these terms you may not access or use the site or Content.