Menuology: Location, Location, Location

By Elizabeth Bomze | Boston Magazine |

Brian Konefal wants you to try the lobster with lardo. He and his team at Bina Osteria buy raw fatback and cure it, then wrap it around sweet chunks of lobster. Konefal feels so invested in the dish, in fact, he’ll do everything he can to nudge you in its direction. Like many chefs, he understands that a menu is a sales pitch, and that strategic organization goes a long way toward steering a diner’s cravings. So the lobster with lardo goes near the top of the page.

The idea of "menu engineering" can be a touchy subject with chefs, who are often loath to admit they work so deliberately, lest they come off as sales-y. Restaurant consultant David Shinney of DCS Associates (whose clients include the Buttery and Grill 23) calls it a mix of "inexact science and common sense." Yet studies indicate that tactical menu design can influence sales. "The first and last items are very important," says New York consultant Clark Wolf, "whether the decision is conscious or not."

Case in point: Beacon Hill Bistro chef Jason Bond likes his appetizer list to finish strong. "We’re really proud of our Pâté du Chef," he says of his charcuterie plate, "so we put it last, hoping it sticks out." Likewise, Hungry Mother‘s Barry Maiden puts his beloved shrimp and grits at the end, while Konefal showcases esoteric pasta shells with porcinis and tripe in the number-two slot on his pasta menu (conversely, he saves spots four and five on the entrée lineup for "safer items"). And although Gordon Hamersley claims no ulterior motive in reorganizing his carte so that his legendary chicken gets buried below the seafood, we’re convinced it’s a ploy to spotlight the non–cult faves. As he says: "The way our chicken sells, it doesn’t matter where we put it."