New Research Reveals Profit Opportunities in Your Online Menu

Even before the recent COVID surges, new vaccine mandates and other restrictions, the analysts at Revenue Management Solutions advised their restaurant clients that online ordering was here to stay. 

Their opinions were based on quarterly consumer surveys, conducted since April 2020, that suggest while consumers are eager to get back to restaurants, they will continue to rely on dine-out options, primarily takeout. In fact, in a May 2021 survey of 800 U.S. respondents, 67 percent of frequent diners considered takeout crucial to the future of dining. 

So how can restaurant operators increase the profitability of online menus? 

So how can restaurant operators increase the profitability of online menus? 

To answer the question, RMS conducted online ordering behavior research, the first of its kind, in conjunction with the University of South Florida’s Center for Marketing and Sales Innovation (CMSI) and using TGI Fridays’ online menu. 

“As consumers decide to stick to pandemic-developed takeout/dine-out behavior, and as online and mobile ordering matures, operators will need to refine their platforms and strategies,”  said Ryan Garner, data architect for Revenue Management Solutions.

The research, which began in May 2021, relied on new technology developed by iMotions that allowed researchers to use participants’ webcams to gather eye-tracking data as they ordered from TGI Fridays’ online test menu from home via their desktops or laptops. 

Early results revealed consistent consumer behavior that should drive online ordering improvements by operators

Suggestive Selling 

The RMS and USF research team uncovered a distinct buyer’s journey within the online ordering process, revealing untapped opportunities for suggestive selling. They observed four discrete phases with mental tasks and outcomes for each, including: 

(1) Familiarization: Respondents scanned the entire menu/website.

(2) Exploration: Respondents narrowed and evaluated choices.

(3) Affirmation: Respondents began adding items to the cart while toggling back to menu options to add or search additional items. 

(4) Confirmation: Respondents completed checkout.

“We found that respondents were more likely to change their minds or add items during the exploration and affirmation phases of the process,” said Ryan Garner, data architect for Revenue Management Solutions. “Yet most suggestive selling happens during checkout. If these results translate across many menus — and we anticipate that they will — it could be a game-changer for operators.” 

Blind Spots Revealed 

Researchers also relied on eye-tracking data and gaze-path analysis to determine how the participants navigate an online menu. Preliminary findings show that approximately 50 percent of the time, respondents missed items displayed on the left side of the menu. 

As noted in the image, respondents usually started with a site’s main menu categories (appetizers, sandwiches, etc.), reading across from left to right. Respondents’ focus then shifted down toward the center of the screen, like a “T,” and navigated predominantly to the right of the center. 


RMS is finalizing the next phase of the ongoing research, which will be open to interested brands, to investigate how consumers navigate brand menus with different designs across various media, including online, mobile and physical menus. The analysis will also include age and gender demographics and compare cost/spend recall to actual cost. 

In the past 18 months, we’ve undergone a seismic shift in the way our customers interact with our menu,” said Sara Bittorf, Chief Experience Officer at TGI Fridays. “The research has already given us tools to improve the guest experience and increase menu profitability. We’re looking forward to exploring further menu engineering insights as the research proceeds.”