800-316-3198 [email protected]

Menu Matrix HotOperator

Is your accountant happy with your menu?

Maybe you’re happy with your menu, but is your accountant happy with your menu? And by accountant, I mean is your menu able to help you get your customers to support you properly financially? Here’s how to know for sure if you menu is right for your business (and in this way, know how happy your accountant is with your menu).

Start With A Restaurant Menu Matrix

At HotOperator we start our process with a restaurant menu matrix. There is a focus group going on in your business every day. People are deciding if they will eat at your restaurant, and when they do, they are telling you what they like and don’t like about your business, your food and your menu. A restaurant menu matrix breaks each item on your menu down into one of four categories: Stars, Puzzles, Work Horses and Dogs.

We do this to better understand what your guests are thinking about the restaurant menu, the food and the restaurant business in general. To make a restaurant menu matrix we need just a couple of things from the restaurant. We need a PMIX (Product Mix, or sales report) from your point of sale system and a copy (PDF, jpeg or png) of your current menu as it looks on your tables.

Stars, Puzzles, Work Horses & Dogs

Stars – these are your best items. They offer both above average sales, and above average profits for your restaurant.

Puzzles – called puzzles because we wonder how to sell more of them. They offer above average profits, but below average sales. Most often these are off brand, or maybe a little too high priced.

Work Horses – most restaurants make most of their money on these items. Think a cheeseburger at McDonald’s and you get the idea. These items offer a much higher than average sales popularity, but below average profitability in the restaurant.

Dogs – put these items back in the ground where you found them They are slow to move, and they are also low in profits.

Gianni's Menu DesignDo Your Customers Like Your Menu?

I didn’t ask if you like your menu, I asked if your customers like your menu. There is a big difference. You might think your menu is just fine, but you’re not the one using your menu, your customers are. So I’ll ask you again, do your guests like the menu you offer them? A better design will make your customers like your food better, make you more money and get guests to think more highly of your business.

At HotOperator.com, we think about your guests and how they will respond to your menu. The graphics, layouts, product positioning, and overall look of the menu are essential to expressing your restaurant brand.

It’s All About The Story

Each item on your menu should have a little story, especially the items you want to become stars in your business. People respond to stories. People are hard-wired to be storytellers, and are motivated by stories. Which is why just listing ingredients is a huge mistake. Not as bad as just listing the name of the item and the price, but not much worse, either.

Culinary artists often make this mistake (a chef is anyone who cooks professionally, while culinary artists are people who went to school to become chefs). They think that they are somehow above branding and so they do a minimalist approach to their menu with just a list of produce and proteins with slash marks between the items. And the result is a less than ideal description for customers to make a decision, and a lower satisfaction for the guest.


Making a menu that your accountant likes requires having the menu set up for a higher return on investment. To do that, there’s a little science that needs to be taken care of. At HotOperator, we use Positioning, Highlighting, Mental Anchoring and strategic Numbers to make the menu more productive.

Positioning – where on your menu something is positioned has a big impact on how well that item will sell. HotOperator restaurant menu design experts have the best handle on this in the industry.

Highlighting – calling attention to the right items on your menu is essential. In fact, not highlighting certain items on your menu actually does a disservice to your business. Your customers want your advice, and not giving them your advice is telling your guests you don’t care about them or what they put into their bodies.

Anchoring – there is one time in a person’s life they are willing to spend the most money in a restaurant. And that moment is when they sign on a house, or a car or anything else that’s expensive. The thinking for the guests is, I just spent $300,000.00 on a house, what’s another hundred bucks? They actually compare the purchase of the house to the purchase of dinner. And this works on a menu if you know how to set it up correctly. The menu design and engineering experts at HotOperator know just how to do this.

Numbers – this is all about finding the sweet spot price point for each item on your menu. The skill to do this correctly is not universal. It takes years of experience to get this right. HotOperator has been making menus for 30 years, and in that time we’ve become really good at finding the price positions for restaurant operators.

Mark & Kelly LauxWhen you put all this together professionally, you have a menu that offers a high return on investment. If you think of menu design as an expense, skip all this, and get something cheap from your distributor or an online template resource. But if you see your menu as an integral part of your business marketing, then using the professionals at HotOperator.com makes a lot of sense.

Mark and Kelly are a design-engineer team and managing partners of HotOperator. They have been working in the restaurant business since 1989. Either can be contacted through the HotOperator website, or by calling 800-316-3198.