A restaurant’s menu is a visual “first impression” for customers. It can
be appealing to people in search of something tasty, different or
familiar, or a slightly frustrating ordeal that can keep diners from
coming back.

Understanding that many restaurants need help in how to design their
menus – and to track results over time – is the idea behind
HotOperator, a business based in Oshkosh.

Read this WisBusiness story here.

Founded by Kelly and Mark Laux, HotOperator is a marketing,
advertising and design business that focuses on the food-service
industry, from identifying menu items to managing social media.

“HotOperator … was an opportunity to put together our three areas
of expertise,” Kelly Laux said. “Those are the science of consumer
technology with award-winning design and marketing knowledge in the food
service business.”

The latest innovation is the “Menu Builder,” a process that aims to
offer restaurant operators a way to manage their menus. It will also
allow restaurant operators to monitor and increase their profits and get
alerts when items are either not performing well, or to put a spotlight
on items that offer a higher return in the moment.

The food business generates around $1 billion in sales per day, Laux
said. The problem is that profit margins are typically small, averaging
less than 4 cents for every $1 the industry takes in.

“What HotOperator has developed is a strategic pricing process that
helps the restaurant operator find the sweet spot for their menu mix,”
she said, a technology that sets Menu Builder apart from other programs
or menu creators.

The menu matrix breaks restaurant items into four categories based
on each product’s ability to generate income and its relative

The end result of the Menu Builder is that restaurants can become
better known for the foods that customers like most, which means
generating a higher return on investments for the operation.

HotOperator was selected as one of the semi-finalists in the
Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate June 3-4 at the
Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Madison. Laux said the contest
has helped bring structure to the marketing plan as well as a sense of
urgency and a timeline for getting Menu Builder up and running.

HotOperator and Menu Builder can help restaurant operators save
money and time by offering all of their menu marketing, which includes
bookends, table tents, posters and other advertising creative pieces in
one place.

Menu Builder can also assist restaurant operators in better managing
their food purchases, Laux said. It can help them streamline their
product sales. It will also change the way they manage their marketing
processes, focusing more effort and energy around the items that offer
the highest connection to their brand in the marketplace.

HotOperator has published a book on menu design and engineering and
contributes featured articles for Restaurant Startup & Growth
magazine. HotOperator has developed menus and related items for
restaurants in every state in the United States as well as the United
Kingdom, Australia, Cyprus, Canada, China and Japan.

— By Morgan Paige, for WisBusiness.com . Paige is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.