Find a Menu Pricing Strategy That Works for You

There's no real one-size-fits-all menu pricing strategy. Follow these steps to figure out what works for your restaurant.

Restaurant menu pricing isn't the most straightforward of things. But that's restaurant life for you – you might run into something a bit complex but there's always the determination and drive to keep pushing forward.

When it comes to establishing a pricing strategy for your restaurant, you can think of it as a balancing act. You want to price your menu to offset operational costs across the business – not just limited to the kitchen – but you also need to consider your customers' expectations and do some research into how similar menu items are priced in the market.

Along with brushing up on menu engineering, developing an in-depth menu pricing strategy will ensure you're not only making your money back but adding a little padding your pockets with increased profits.

Speaking of menu engineering, check out this Menu Engineering Course to learn how you can make the most of your menu and become a menu engineering pro.

Now let's dive in.

Menu Engineering Course
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Menu Engineering Course

Take this course to make the most of your menu. Learn about menu psychology and design, managing your menu online, and adapting your menu to increase sales.

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5 Steps to Creating a Knockout Restaurant Menu Pricing Strategy

Step 1: Cost out your menu

The first step in creating a menu pricing strategy for your restaurant is costing out your menu.

If you want to keep the money coming in and thrive in an industry well known for thin margins, knowing the food cost percentage for each of your menu items is a good place to start. To do this, you need the following:

Before, you might have spent a bunch of time manually costing out your menu with red pen and any number of spreadsheets. A food cost calculator streamlines a lot of the messy work by:

  • Calculating the food cost percentage for each menu item
  • Determining the cost per pound and/or cup of each ingredient
  • Sharing the top five most popular items on restaurant menus in your state and for your concept type
  • Giving you the ability to create custom menu items based off your results

By understanding your food costs, you'll make playing the menu pricing game that much easier.

Step 2: Price your menu by looking beyond your competitors

Your business is unique, so even when it comes to something like menu pricing, why compare yourself to others?

Every restaurant has different food costs, on top of different operational costs. Plus, it's hard to really know a restaurant's pricing strategy if you aren't on the ground floor.

An important thing to keep in mind here is that creating value goes beyond price. Value isn't purely driven by price – value's created when you deliver on things that aren't as quantifiable, including service, atmosphere, and food presentation

Keep that in mind when pricing out your menu. Pricing at the commodity level is a never-ending battle of who has cheaper prices, and it's one that'll detract from your business's true value.

Step 3: Play to your strengths

Think of your menu like your greatest hits album, a representation of what you and your team do best.

Menu items that showcase you and your team's talents allows you to differentiate your brand and stand out from the crowd – and, in turn, price your menu differently.

Being different is a good thing, and it can even lead you to charging a premium for your top items.

Step 4: Study the market

While looking into your competitors' exact menu pricing strategies might not get you too far, you'll still want to do some research to better understand the way the larger market prices menu items. This will help you conduct a competitive pricing analysis.

Here's a quick exercise:

  • Gather menus from 5-7 restaurants in your market and identify overlaps with your menu.
  • For comparable menu items, pinpoint a high point, a low point, and calculate an average price.

Now based on your restaurant's specific value, how can you price your item with this competitive analysis in mind?

For example, a hamburger in Albuquerque, New Mexico may cost two to three dollars less than a hamburger in Santa Fe (45 miles away) because the market in Santa Fe will bear it.

Think about the last time you were at the airport and paid $5 for bottled water and $7 for a yogurt. Depending on location and value, you can charge what makes sense, but only to a point: Value is about value. If you price gouge your guests and they don't feel it was worth it, you’ll lose them fast.

Keep your pulse on the market, including which restaurants are opening and which restaurants are closing, and continue refining your menu every few months.

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Step 5: Find balance in your menu

One of the keys to a successful menu pricing strategy is to balance your high-cost menu items with your low-cost ones. But finding balance isn't an overnight process. It takes time, testing, and ongoing analysis to really dial in and get your menu just right.

Here are a few things you can do to help you get there:

  • Keep your food costs updated so you know what every item on your menu costs.
  • Invest in a point of sale system that can generate accurate product mix reports.
  • Stay patient, focused, and committed to the project.

To continue to optimize your menu, you'll also need to learn the principles of menu psychology and menu engineering. This will help you maintain balance but also increase your profits.

How you price menu items, where you place items on your menu, and how you continually update your menu is critical to getting that balance just right.

The Truth About Menu Pricing

The truth is that there's no real one-size-fits-all menu pricing strategy. There are so many variables to consider: your brand, your market conditions, your overhead, your staff, and your guests.

At the end of the day, your guests will be the ones to give you feedback on your menu prices. So listen and give them the space to share.

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