What is the Key to Selling Expensive Menu Items?

Selling Expensive Menu Items

Every restaurant has it, whether on the menu or off the menu an item that is priced a little higher than the rest of the menu. What this item is would depend on the restaurant; it might be crab legs, a whole lobster, lobster tail, a variation of surf & turf, a special steak or even caviar. Whatever it is, the price tag is usually much higher than other items on the menu or is an add-on that costs as much as an entrée! Many times these dishes fit into the psychology of dining out as well!

selling the most expensive menu item

  • Why do restaurants like to feature such food items?
  • How do chefs/kitchen managers/purchasers feel about these dishes/items?
  • Why are these even on the menu or in the building for that matter?
  • Who buys these overpriced items anyway?


Why do restaurants like to feature such expensive menu items?


Restaurants like to feature items that are expensive for several reasons, surprisingly one isn’t necessarily profits. Many times it is to have an item that is there for the special occasion, someone is always celebrating, others always like to do it up when dining out, even if it is an inexpensive chain restaurant. A restaurant wants to feature a few expensive or “special” items to raise sales (top line growth), draw eyes and create buzz in the restaurant (marketing) or having a stand out item that makes other items seem not as expensive are a few reasons to have these items on the menu.

            What about the items that are off the menu?

These are features, “blackboard” dishes or more popular, items left off the menu to allow service staff the opportunity to spiel or hand sell. This gives them an opportunity to be creative and have fun with guests!


How does this make the kitchen feel?


Well, the kitchen and chefs/KM’s in particular, do not want mistakes with these items, especially the expensive ones as there is scarcity. There is only so much caviar available at a reasonable price and lobster tails and usually available in limited quantities. Different fish species are only available certain times of the year (think certain cod species, Florida Stone Crab Claws and Copper River Salmon), this usually means the price is high to bring them in.


Kitchens are very concerned about these products, an overcooked lobster tail can cost the kitchen a great deal of money as can a bartender dropping a case of wine. Part of the chef job description includes maintaining a food cost figure and/or target, so that order of crab legs that was a error just cost the restaurant $20 in food cost and $39 in sales. On top of that add in food turnover and scraps…the number can grow quite large.


Why are these items even in the building?


It was hinted at previously, but it is always a good thing to have items on and off the menu that hit a higher price point. It is part psychology and part branding. Hooters is famous for offering its “Gourmet Wing Dinner” served with a bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne, the price is about 4x-6x higher than any other menu item. How many do they sell?  Good question to ask.  If someone can answer that, let us know!  Otherwise, we ask a different question, How important is it in selling the most expensive menu item?


Not important at all!


All that matters is that it is there for eyes to gaze at. Many of these items have a certain draw or ring to it that make guests feel better about being in the restaurant. These dishes can and should make their mouths’ water with excitement, even if they do not enjoy a locally caught Flounder feature along the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic during the summer or Crawfish during the spring (seasons when both are at their best). If a guest or two or more orders these, now that is an achievement! What would be even better if enough order to 86 it off the menu! Remember, wasted food is wasted sales and profit only benefitting the accountants to write it off!   Let guests know it is there and if they bite, well then the water is warm, hope for a feeding frenzy!

A Frenzy around the Most Expensive Menu Item

Who Buys These Overpriced Items Anyway?


Many different types of people want to buy these items, whether it is to impress or cause they can. The real question is Why? This is a study in psychology and is best discussed in the now famous TED Talk with Simon Senek: Start with Why? If you haven’t seen, please do so! However, there is more to this and part of has to do with menu planning and design. The location of certain items on the menu can also change how guests view them. Price isn’t the only determinate of a guest buying the most expensive thing on the menu. Many times it is the servers themselves that use excellent adjectives and descriptors to make a dish sound irresistible, maybe it is that a guest sees the dish going to a nearby table. That might be the best marketing of all in a restaurant…the sights, sounds and smell of dishes. Ever wonder why some restaurants send out lamb with a smoking sprig of rosemary? It is to tempt the senses and stimulate the mind. If it causes the guest to ask a question, pat the kitchens’ back for sending out a perfect piece of marketing that makes the job of the FOH easier!


Psychology? Where Does That Fit Into A Restaurant?


EVERYWHERE! Is the entire concept of dining out not an experience filling a psychological and physiological need? In our fast-paced and hyper connected world of the 21st century, time to prepare a meal is scarce as is time together for many families. The result: Tuesday night dinner out as a family.


Tuesday happens to be the only night a family of 4 can sit down together, the rest of the time it is leftovers from the weekend, windows and meals in less than 10 minutes. The basic psychological need of interaction has caused the recent spike in dining out. On that day there happens to be a celebration, expect someone to get a higher priced item or change from their regular dish, to experiment (variety is the spice of life). Couple this with the physiological need of food and it is a winner.

Catch The Most Expensive Menu Item

Focus on psychology, building rapport (during the greet) and being genuine with guests and watch those high priced items fly out the kitchen while sales and profits rise with servers wallets being full!

Spread the word with the whole staff!

Leave a Reply