A customer looking at a menu.
How To Spot A Restaurant Menu 'Margin Builder' And Why It's A Red Flag

Restaurants are generally run with pretty slim margins. This is why certain items called "margin builders” exist on menus solely to make those margins a little less slim.

One of the most notable restaurant margin builders is guacamole. The $25 price tag on a bowl of guac can hardly be justified, but few will say no to chips and guac.

The best way to spot a margin-building menu item is to look for dishes made up of basic ingredients, or ones that sound luxurious but might not be authentic.

Unless it's made in-house from scratch, pasta is a great margin builder. A pasta dish that’s 95% spaghetti and 5% of the "star" ingredient is an example of this bait and switch.

Another menu red flag is the "truffle on everything" phenomenon. Fake truffle products cost little to produce but can be upcharged because they use a luxurious food item.

Alcohol is an insidious margin builder. Prices for beverages are rising as restaurants struggle to make up the difference, with customers cutting back in response to inflation.