When you hear the word “engineering” what comes to mind? I’m sure you may be thinking of a civil engineer, an electrical engineer, or even a railroad engineer. The word is diverse & encompasses many different skills, disciplines, and careers. But, have you ever thought of engineering in the sense of menus?
Yes, menu engineering is a real thing! By definition, engineering is:
“the creative application of science, mathematical methods, and empirical evidence to the innovation, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of structures, machines, materials, devices, systems, processes, and organizations.”
Menu engineering takes into account the elements of both science & art that go into perfecting the structure of a restaurant menu. Pretty cool, right?
If you’re a new restaurant owner just building out your first menu, or even if you’re a seasoned vet looking to switch things up, menu engineering can be a secret weapon to your success. Engineering has proven to not only influence customers’ decisions but boost sales.
You’re probably wondering how exactly this works. Nope, it’s not magic. But, there are many elements and strategies that go into perfecting menu design. In a team-up with menu aficionado Gregg Rapp, we’ll be discussing different elements of the engineering process. Topics will include everything from boxing certain menu items to name dropping in your menu descriptions. But first, we’ll introduce the man behind the menus, Gregg Rapp.
Gregg is the menu engineer. With over 35 years of experience in the restaurant industry, Gregg has reimagined menus for some of the most well-known restaurants across the globe. He transforms menus based on research, statistical data, and cost. Gregg continuously hones his craft by working with professors at Duke University, Cornell University, and the Culinary Institute of America.
Gregg’s expertise has been featured in the Wall Street Journal & the New York Times, and on news programs, including The Today Show, ABC News, and CBS News. He has traveled the world giving restaurants advice on pricing strategies and menu design.
I sat down with Gregg to talk about his history and experience.
How Did You Get Your Start as the Menu Guy?
Like many young entrepreneurs, Gregg began his journey in menu engineering during college. At the time, he was going to college while running a restaurant in Seattle. During that time, he was tasked with coming up with the restaurant’s new menu. When he started the process, he realized there wasn’t much information available when it came to menu design and structure, so he decided to find information hidden in other sources. Gregg studied newspapers and magazines since there was a science behind how people read them.
Another great source of influence for him was the supermarket. He studied item placement, from how products are placed (which encompasses not only the location on a shelf but also where the items are displayed within the store), to the abundance of items and how that plays into how well it sells. A lot of the tools he uses today in menu engineering are derived from his grocery store research.
Gregg also credits his former professor and mentor, Don Smith, for inspiring him to begin a career in menu engineering. Don’s research helped lay the foundation for menu engineering, and his work in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group actually developed tools for the menu engineering quadrant (which we’ll discuss more later in the series). Gregg worked with Don closely for 36 years during his career to develop new processes for menu redesign.
When Did You Make Menu Engineering a Full-Time Career?
I asked Gregg about how he finally decided to make menu engineering into a business. He specifically remembers when the lightbulb went off for him. He realized that there was something to make of all of this information about menus and that he wanted to share this knowledge with restaurateurs everywhere. At the time when Gregg got his start, which was in the early 1980s, menu printing was a booming business. Different printing companies were competing for business and were charging hefty prices for full-color printing services. They were focused on their own profit, not the layout and design of the menus. Gregg knew that this was an opportunity to really help restaurateurs design menus that would result in their profitability. And so from there, he went to Denver to work with his first client - Dean Peterson. Dean ran a group of restaurants in Denver and was a restaurant innovator who drew inspiration from other restaurants in diverse locations. Gregg helped him to restructure and redesign his menus.
Over three decades later, Gregg Rapp is still a successful menu engineer who is just as excited about coaching restaurateurs to build better menus as he was when he started. He’s worked with hundreds of restaurants across the country and has helped them to achieve profits they never thought were imaginable. Gregg has branched out from Denver and still frequently travels across the country to provide his expertise to restaurants everywhere.
So, how exactly will this engineering pay off for a restaurateur? Gregg is confident that within 30 days after a restaurant puts out their redesigned menu they will see new profits of at least $1,000 (or else he provides a money-back guarantee). One high-volume restaurant even saw $18,000 in new profit PER MONTH after working with Gregg to redesign their menus. That’s a lot of cash!
Gregg makes sure to note that he is a coach in the entire menu engineering process. He is against going into a restaurant and simply redesigning the menu on his own and calling it a day. He hosts boot camp sessions, works one-on-one with the staff, and gives them the tools they need to create the new menu together. This way, they can use the knowledge they gained in the meetings to re-engineer menus on their own in the future. The hands-on approach to Gregg’s business is what has helped restaurateurs walk away with not only newly found profit, but valuable information to be used in years to come.
So, now that you know a bit more background about Gregg, you're prepared to dive into more detail about just what goes into menu engineering. In our exclusive series, we'll discuss Gregg’s menu engineering process and provide you snippets of tools you can use for your own restaurant menu. Stay tuned to see what’s next.
Interested in working with Gregg? Check out his website & contact him for more information!
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