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Menu design: 20 things you should know

Menu design: 20 things you should know

20 Things You Should Know about Menu Design

By Forketers Restaurant Marketing Blog

In this article, you will learn twenty of the most important points you should consider before making up your restaurant menu. The menu is more than a list of dishes. It should be an effective marketing tool that sells.

Many restaurant operators give their menu little attention. It may look okay to them. It has all the dishes listed with their prices. But what the customer sees is just a list. BOR-Ring!

From the aspect of marketing, your menu is probably the most important salesperson for your restaurant. Are you aware of the impact your menu has on your sales? Here below, I’ve listed twenty of the most important considerations you should remember when it comes to menu design.

Even disregarding as little as one of these twenty points, the negative impact on sales can be much more serious than most people realize.

Your menu is your major sales and communication tool. Through the menu, you can talk to your guests and recommend dishes. This can be especially important when you can’t have top quality waiters.

Your menu should:

  1. Orient the sale of products in a way that will entice customers
  2. Intrigue the mind’s eye
  3. Stimulate curiosity and more likelihood of making a sale
  4. It should properly and explain dishes in a clean and appetizing way
  5. It should reassure guests that they’re making a good choice
  6. And of course, it should sell

20 Things to Consider when Designing your Menu

Before I list the 20 necessities, I want to recommend you not try to design your own menu. Unless you’re an experienced designer or have had a lot of experience with menu design software, you should really seek the services of a professional graphic designer. The cost of this service will be easily offset by increased interest and sales.

Many people start off saving money by using Microsoft Word, Paint or some free internet software. A choice that’s even worse is to assign the job to a teenage nephew, a neighbor or cousin who is “good with computers”.

While the internet offers menu templates you can download, these may suffice, but that’s all they do. These are stock designs that are probably dated as well as uninteresting.

Your choice should be a professional menu designed for a reasonable amount of money. This isn’t a job for amateurs or for stock menu templates. It’s most important not to lose sight of the importance of your menu.

nicola barcellona indicates

You can go to 99designs.com and professional graphic design service will design your menu not only to your

liking but to the liking of your guests.

Okay, finally we get to the 20 characteristics you must take into consideration when it comes to having your menu designed in such a way that your guests will order, spend more money and make everyone happy.

1. Color

colors paletteColor can make a significant impact on our perception and it can influence our actions. Many studies have been done to associate color with human perception.

Blue, for instance, is associated with trust. Blue’s a relaxing color. Green, Mother Nature’s favorite color, indicates freshness and renewal. Red, on the other hand, indicates exuberance and action, while yellow promotes happiness and optimism.

It’s necessary to bear in mind that your guests will be as influenced by color as you are. For example, in China, red has a different meaning than it does in Italy. In Russia red is extremely popular and many words such as beautiful seem to have been derived from red. Orange can stimulate the appetite and therefore the purchase of certain products.

Each color has a meaning and speaks to us. Therefore, it’s important to take color into consideration when designing a menu. This applies to the design and color of your logo as well. With the use of the psychology of color, you can take advantage of this knowledge to increase your bottom line.

2. Pictures

cameraMany restaurant menus don’t contain pictures, yet lacking those, they still represent one of your best-merchandising techniques. But pictures always add an important extra sales tool to your menu. The inclusion of photographs or illustrations requires a high level of sophistication and good taste.

Many low-cost but adequate cameras are available today. With one of these you should be able to get some good photos without the help of a professional photographer — although when possible, the pro is recommended.

There are many books that can help you make better photos very quickly.

When you have photos to insert into your menu, be sure to use those that convey emotion and whet the appetite. Empty tables, clean plates and dining rooms with no customers add little to your menu. You want to use photos that show a dining room with contented customers, attractive dishes or busy servers.

❌ However, please don’t show photos of customers and dishes you can’t really offer. That sort of thing can create a negative effect that will cost you dearly.

3. Don’t use currency signs

moneyWe know that every item on most menus shows a price.

But signs such as “€” “£” and “$” or “Dhs” etc., should be avoided. These symbols tend to subconsciously cause the customer to focus more on the prices and the idea that the restaurant is only interested in making money.

More and more restaurants today have learned this lesson and no longer put currency signs on their prices.

4. Language

commentHow would you feel when you’re abroad and to a restaurant where you don’t understand a word of what’s on the menu? If you’re in a location where you expect a great many foreign guests, you should have the same menu printed up in different languages to make it easy and comfortable for your guests.



Even if you only expect the occasional foreigner, it’s wise to have a menu to offer that will make your customer feel comfortable.

Tony, a Sicilian entrepreneur, opened a small trattoria several kilometers distant from the capital, Palermo. He only saw a couple of foreigners a year, but nevertheless, he kept menus in English, Spanish and French.

By the spring of 2014 tourists began flooding his little trattoria in larger and larger groups daily. At first, Tony couldn’t understand this sudden popularity, but one day, although Tony’s English was poor, he managed to ask an American customer how he had found the restaurant. The American tourist showed Tony an article that had appeared about Tony’s trattoria.

It turned out that one customer who had found the trattoria a few months earlier had written about it in his popular travel blog. In his blog, he not only praised the restaurant but the English menu that was offered to him in the restaurant as well.

5. The use of graphic space

research iconManagers and owners sometimes believe that the more offerings you put on your menu, the more customers will see it as quality and become more attached to the restaurant. However, this is simply not true!

When we look at a menu or any other document, we look for white spaces to indicate starting points. When we look at a list of products, all written in a dense text you risk losing the interest of the reader. It is quite unnecessary and even harmful to insert too many offerings on your menu.

You can make use of strategically empty spaces to drive customers’ orders and increase the sale of certain dishes rather than others.

6. Icons

vegeterianWherever there is a lot of tourism, icons have come into wide use. A typical example is the use of stars to define the category of hotels. Facebook had the now-famous raised thumb to express the viewer’s liking.



In the restaurant business, icons are greatly used and can have a positive impact on customers’ eyes.

For instance, some restaurants may have a small chili pepper next to a dish that immediately tells the guest that this is a spicy dish. On the other hand, it’s wise not to overdo your icons.

*Then there is the famous asterisk with a footnote. This has been used effectively, for instance, to indicate that a certain dish is frozen. However, today, overuse of the asterisk, customers have developed something we might call an “asterisk prejudice” that only leaves the guest with a negative impression despite the product’s actual quality.

7. Where the eye falls

mind iconEvery centimeter on your menu is important and worthy of your attention. When we look at a menu, our eyes follow a natural path. The arrangement of dishes should consider this track to increase the sale of certain dishes and through this method, forecast revenue.



If your menu is a trifold card, the eye will typically move from the center to the top right.

This path follows what is known as a pair of “golden triangles“. Therefore, the place to put the more profitable dishes you’d like to sell at the top right of your menu. Of course, over time any menu format will produce a predictable sales mix.

Through careful study of the way people order from your menu, you should soon be able to forecast the preferences of your guests. This point is fundamental. With an effective menu, you should be able not only to create good communication with your guests but increase sales but have better control over costs as well.

8. Short and long descriptions

textThe human being has a natural inclination to observe and notice what is different. If you write a list of short sentences followed by a long one, the reader will be more attracted to the latter. On the other hand, if you write many long involved descriptions, the eye will stray toward the shorter sentences.



In putting your menu together, you should always bear the length of your descriptions in mind.

It’s probably a good idea to play around with short and long sentences to find just the right combination to help you give prominence to the items you’d like to feature.

9. Post the menu outside

menu blackboardThink about how many times that, in the supermarket, we buy a lot more than we intended to buy? This has a lot to do with the way products are displayed on the shelves. What do you think your reaction would be if all these items were just packed on the shelves with no indication of the price?

As you undoubtedly know, many people go out to dine, but in a strange country, they have no idea where to go. They may drive around and see restaurants here and there, but if there’s no indication of the price range, some are hesitant to stop, they don’t want to get into a situation where they have to spend a lot more than the intended.

It’s not only wise but in some countries mandatory, to post a menu outside where a potential guest can look it over before deciding to enter. Some restaurants also offer at least one complete dinner for example for a fixed price.

It’s also a good idea to post the phone number and mention home delivery. In some places, rather than post the entire menu, one or two large signs will feature specialties with the price included.

10. The value of words

wordsWords are very important. The words you use in your menu should not only describe your dishes but make them desirable. They should make customers not only want them, but they can create customer loyalty.

For example, rather than use the word “fried” you might refer to the dish as “crispy” and “golden”.

Often this can cause a guest to order the dish without stopping to think about the consequences of fattening foods. Another ploy is to use “light” adjectives. Many have found that mentioning a brief description of the origin and type of agriculture can be helpful.

For instance, mentioning that you use only free-range chickens fed natural products may be a good selling point. But don’t lie about it! That could be your ruin.

11. Readability

checklistIt’s crucial that your menu be easily read. The ease of reading depends not only on the media in which the menu is placed (i.e. reading print on paper is not the same as reading on a computer monitor). The font is important as is the size of the color, even the location in which it is read. The age and education of the reader are important as well.

All these aspects should be taken into consideration when you’re designing your menu. Naturally, you want to design a menu that sells but before going further, it’s a good idea to consider your restaurant’s target customers and adapt the menu’s style to them. If a lot of your guests are older people, larger fonts may help.

For kids, large colorful fonts make for a winner with special graphics for the external menu. In a more upscale, restrained restaurant with Mozart playing softly in the background, you would want an appropriate menu, one that puts your establishment on the same level as your guests.

12. Simplicity

puzzletruly effective menu should be simple. A menu that is too cluttered and even confusing will do little to whet the appetites of your guests. Simplicity, aside from the graphic aspects, depends on the number of dishes you list.



Too many dishes won’t generate value for the restaurant. They may even stress the customer.

Usually, four or five proposals for the first or second dish, along with some “off the menu” dishes may be quite enough for your menu.

13. Superlatives

wrong iconBe careful with superlatives. Including phrases such as “The best pizza in the country” or “Our quality restaurant”, “the best steak in the world”, “The best spaghetti on the planet”, etc., will not add value to your restaurant or do anything to increase sales.

In fact, singing your praises with such superlatives only makes you appear ridiculous. It’s fine to give yourself a compliment, but you should do with credible and moderate adjectives.

14. Show the brand personality

attract peopleThe world is in constant change, and marketing has changed along with it. Today, whether you like it or not, a brand must have what they call “meaning”. And today, brands not only represent products.




Consumers today actually interact with brands.

brand has to have its own personality. That is to say that it has to have human characteristics that will be closely associated with it. A brand personality describes a brand in terms of a human characteristic such as serious, refined, playful, feminine, intelligent, or traditional, etc.

Here are some examples of famous brands:

  • Marlboro, once a feminine cigarette with red tips, etc. one day changed to a man’s cigarette showing a real man with a tattoo on his hand. It shows cowboys riding the range and overnight it became the choice of many men. (Without the red tip of course!)
  • IBM is an old but trusted logo while Apple is young but just as well-known today.
  • McDonald’s is clean, fast, fun and conveniently family-oriented.
  • Coca-Cola is more conformist while Pepsi is nonconformist.

To put this in a nutshell, your restaurant menu template, font, writing style, pictures and everything else related to the design, much personalize your particular brand. The better you can do this, the more successful your operation is likely to be.

15. A menu that lasts

calendarYou have to have a menu that is adapted to your particular operation.

For example, if you have a restaurant poolside bar, then you need a menu that is water-resistant as well as easy to read in bright sunlight. In a luxury upscale venue, more delicate materials may be used.

Every menu, however, must always be kept in good condition. Any menu that has been scribbled on, stained or damaged in any way should immediately be discarded and replaced with a new one. And customers are definitely turned off by your offering those dreadful “immortal” menus encases in those depressing plastic covers.

16. Menu holders

menuIf you plan to use menu holders, remember that they also communicate feelings and emotions to the diner. They can also contribute value to the restaurant and consequently, your brand. The choice of design, material, and color is very important for the overall dining experience.

And remember that when plastic holders of any kind become overused, they say to the customer that you’re paying more attention to saving money than offering the best dining experience you can.

As an example, the famous restaurant of Burj Al Arab in Dubai presents its menu with exclusive covers made of eel skin. Of course, this is a higher-end facility, but you can pay attention to finding the best and most attractive menu possible for the money you have to invest.

17. Personalizing your menu

dessertOne of the gravest and most common errors made in menu planning is to have only one menu available. When you try to plan ahead and have menus to serve to expected guests you not only promulgate good customer-restaurateur relationships but increase revenue as well.

Here below are a few examples you may use depending on your particular situation.

  • Dessert menu
  • Children’s menu
  • Adults menu
  • Vegetarian menu
  • Gluten-free menu
  • Beverage menu
  • Seasonal menus

18. Origin of products

foodIn the past, most consumers had no interest in the origin of products. No one even thought about those things. No one ever considered where a restaurant did its shopping or who its suppliers were.

Today things have changed dramatically. These days consumers pay significant attention to local products. Many restaurants build their concept around “only local products”. Adding this information to your menu is not a problem but rather an opportunity to attract more customers.

19. The menu as an investment

job promotionWith everything taken into consideration, your menu is your best salesman and must work. That’s why it’s so important to plan it carefully rather than just listing your offerings. Another way to put it is, as they say in the United States, “If you invest money in peanuts, you can expect to get monkeys”.

Today, the internet is all-important. It’s a good idea to set up a website where you not only describe your restaurant. And be sure to make your restaurant menu as social as possible. Use the menu to bring customers to your social pages such as Facebook to engage them online. Invite them to like your Facebook page or to review your restaurant on TripAdvisor or Yelp.

20. Check

praiseLast, but certainly not least is the price factor. Most customers are price conscious, whether they are working people or millionaires. No one likes to overspend and even the wealthiest usually like to know where their money is going. Therefore the items the customer has received should appear in the final bill as what they were.

I hope these hints have helped you in understanding the most important features of creating a menu that sells. Once you have these concepts clear in your mind, you can proceed with the menu design.

Restaurant menu psychology: tricks to make us order more

Restaurant menu psychology: tricks to make us order more

Restaurant menu psychology and the tricks they do to make us order more.

Article By The Guardian

From wine-appropriate music to authentic-sounding foreign names, restaurateurs have many ways to persuade diners into ordering high-profit meals

It’s not always easy trying to read a menu while hungry like the wolf, woozy from aperitif and exchanging pleasantries with a dining partner. The eyes flit about like a pinball, pinging between set meal options, side dishes, and today’s specials. Do I want comforting treats or something healthy? What’s cheap? Will I end up bitterly coveting my companion’s dinner? Is it immoral to fuss over such petty, first-world dilemmas? Oh God, the waiter’s coming over.

Why is it so hard to decide what to have? New research from Bournemouth University shows that most menus crowbar in far more dishes than people want to choose from. And when it comes to choosing food and drink, as an influential psychophysicist by the name of Howard Moskowitz once said: “The mind knows not what the tongue wants.”

Malcolm Gladwell cites an interesting nugget from his work for Nescafé. When asked what kind of coffee they like, most Americans will say: “a dark, rich, hearty roast”. But actually, only 25-27% want that. Most prefer weak, milky coffee. Judgment is clouded by aspiration, peer pressure, and marketing messages.

The burden of choice

Perhaps this is part of the joy of a tasting or set menu – the removal of responsibility. And maybe the recent trend for tapas-style sharing plates has been so popular because it relieves the decision-making pressure if all your eggs are not in one basket. Is there a perfect amount of choice?

Nightmare menu layouts

Bournemouth University’s new study has sought to answer this very question. “We were trying to establish the ideal number of starters, mains, and puddings on a menu,” says Professor John Edwards. The study’s findings show that restaurant customers, across all ages and genders, do have an optimum number of menu items, below which they feel there’s too little choice and above which it all becomes disconcerting. In fast-food joints, people wanted six items per category (starters, chicken dishes, fish, vegetarian and pasta dishes, grills and classic meat dishes, steaks and burgers, desserts), while in fine dining establishments, they preferred seven starters and desserts, and 10 main courses, thank you very much.

Befuddling menu design doesn’t help. A few years back, the author William Poundstone rather brilliantly annotated the menu from Balthazar in New York to reveal the marketing bells and whistles it uses to herd customers into parting with the maximum amount of cash. Professor Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design, Mindless Eating Solutions to Everyday Life, has extensively researched menu psychology, or as he puts it, menu engineering. “What ends up initially catching the eye,” he says, “has an unfair advantage over anything a person sees later on.” There’s some debate about how people’s eyes naturally travel around menus, but Wansink reckons “we generally scan the menu in a z-shaped fashion starting at the top-left hand corner.” Whatever the pattern, though, we’re easily interrupted by items being placed in boxes, next to pictures or icons, bolded or in a different color.

The language of food

The Oxford experimental psychologist Charles Spence has an upcoming review paper on the effect the name of a dish has on diners. “Give it an ethnic label,” he says, “such as an Italian name, and people will rate the food as more authentic.” Add an evocative description, and people will make far more positive comments about a dish’s appeal and taste. “A label directs a person’s attention towards a feature in a dish, and hence helps bring out certain flavors and textures,” he says.

But we are seeing a backlash against the menu cliches (drizzled, homemade, infused) that have arisen from this thinking. For some time now, at Fergus Henderson’s acclaimed restaurant, St John, they have let the ingredients speak for themselves, in simple lists. And if you eat at one of Russell Norman’s Polpo group of restaurants in London, you will see almost no adjectives (or boxes and other “flim-flam”, as he calls it), and he’s doing a roaring trade. “I’m particularly unsympathetic to florid descriptions,” he says.

However, Norman’s menus employ their own, subtle techniques to reel diners in. Take his flagship restaurant Polpo’s menu. Venetian dishes are printed on Italian butchers’ paper, which goes with the distressed, rough-hewn feel of the place. I don’t use a huge amount of Italian,” he says, “but I occasionally use it so that customers say ‘what is that?'” He picks an easy-to-pronounce word like suppli (rice balls), to start a conversation between diner and waiter.

Sound and atmosphere

Research has shown that classical music increases sales of expensive wines and overall spending in posh eateries, while French and German music increases sales of French and German wines, respectively (the diners are unaware of these influences). Slow music and the scent of lavender make people spend longer in restaurants and pop music at 70-90dB will up the consumption of soft drinks. And, less surprisingly perhaps, in 1997 Edwards found that diners ate more at a breakfast buffet if the room smelled of grilled bacon, and less with the odor of boiled cabbage wafting around.

It’s all relative, right? In his menu-deconstruction exercise, Poundstone refers to the £70 Le Balthazar seafood plate as a price anchor. “By putting high-profit items next to the extremely expensive anchor, they seem cheap by comparison.” So, what the restaurant wants you to get is the £43 Le Grand plate to the left of it. It’s a similar story with wine. We’ll invariably go for the second cheapest. Set menus, or “bundles”, meanwhile, seem like good value and therefore give us an excuse to eat and spend more. Everyone’s a winner.

Vast menus make me particularly nervous in, say, gastropubs, where they scream: “FRESH FROM THE DEEP FREEZE”. And Norman finds any mention of “chef’s special sauce” offputting (don’t ask). What dampens your appetite on menus? And how do you decide what to order? Gut instinct, methodically weighed up the pros and cons, eliminating items with unwanted ingredients? Or do you always just get the burger?

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