21 Menu Design Tips for Restaurants (+5 Menu Design Tools)
January 21, 2020
One of the important parts of owning and running a successful food establishment is, of course, the food. However, knowing how to sell and market that food is sometimes even more important.
If you make the world’s best pasta dish, but don’t know how to sell it, no one will know. Adversely, a company that makes a mediocre dish, but knows how to market it well can find incredible success.
When considering restaurant marketing tactics, your mind probably didn’t go immediately to menu design. Nonetheless, how your menu is designed can heavily impact what your customers order and is a huge factor that either entices or deters people from ordering your best dishes or ordering at all.
For instance, if you put your menu online for customers to review before trying your restaurant (which most restaurants do today and is highly recommended), and your menu is difficult to read or has minimal descriptions, it can cause a potential customers to try another restaurant instead with a menu that is more friendly to the consumer’s eyes.
A menu is one of the best marketing tools you can use to drive profit once a consumer has been intrigued enough to look at your menu online or in your establishment.
This article outlines 21 menu design tips to inspire you when building or rebuilding your menu, alongside five digital tools to use when designing your menu.
Below are 21 menu design tips for restaurant owners who need inspiration or direction when designing their first or new menu.
From structure and presentation to descriptions and details, these 21 tips should act as a guide to creating an eye-catching menu that consumers can easily navigate and order from, knowing exactly what to expect from their order.
1. Consider Eye Scanning Patterns
The structure of your menu is one of the key factors in ensuring consumers catch every delicious item on your menu – most importantly, your featured items.
Where you place each section and item can greatly impact what a customer’s eye is drawn to and, therefore, what your customer orders.
If your menu is centered on the page, the eyes with start at the center and go from top-down. So, put your menu in order of how a meal would go – starters, main courses, desserts, etc. Putting your specials at the top is wise, as that will be the first thing the eye sees.
If your menu is divided into more rectangular sections, the top right corner is often where consumers start to read – as it’s assumed that is where the main courses are. Because that is the assumption, put them there. Consumers look there first because they care most about their main courses, and you care about them ordering those main courses, so putting the main courses exactly where they’re expected to be is a win-win for everyone!
If your menu is too long to fit on one page, instead of using more paper or needing multiple pages, use the back of the menu. Similar to that feeling of turning in an exam only to find out there was a back page after the fact, people don’t like finding out they missed out on more food options. Knowing there may be more food on the back, it has become normal human instinct to check the back of a menu soon after sitting down. Don’t use more paper in fear the back of the menu will be missed.
Additionally, when using the back of a menu, you’re using the same amount of materials and getting two opportunities to take advantage of eye scanning patterns.
2. Divide the Menu Logically
The worst thing to make a menu is confusing. Dividing a menu into logical sections with noticeable headers for each section should be done on most restaurant menus.
Include a section for every food category you have. Some sections you may have include:
- Starters/To Share
- Hot Starters
- Cold Starters
- Soups and Salads
- Main Dishes/Entrees
- From the Grill
- Hot Sides
- Cold Sides
- Special Sides
- Hot Drinks
- After Dinner Drinks/Digestifs
After you’ve chosen the sections you will include in your menu, put these sections into an appropriate sequence. The best method to go on this one is the most obvious: the order in which the items will be eaten/ordered in.
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3. Item Location
So, your menu structure has been identified keeping eye scanning patterns in mind and your sections have been separated. Now, how do you choose which order to put the items within each category in?
Item location is fairly preferential. However, putting the dishes you’re most proud of at the top of the list is a full-proof way to ensure the item will be seen. Other sequences to order your items includes alphabetical and best-sellers. Price is highly discouraged, as it showcases the pricing of every item on your menu and reminds a consumer to be more on a budget while ordering.
Putting your top-selling and most expensive items at the top of the list is a great way to lead the consumer to choosing one of those items. If this is not the route you want to go, there are other ways to outline those items that will be discussed during tip 10.
Typography is a great way to demonstrate a restaurant’s brand with its consumers. Choose a typeface that shows who your restaurant is, but is easy to read – you don’t want people struggling to read your menu.
Factors that can impact your typeface choice may include how much text you need to fit on the page comfortably, font size, and using bolding or italics. Use a larger text size for your headings, a medium text size for your menu items, and a smaller text size for your item descriptions. Never use too small or large text sizes, as they can affect a customer’s eye scanning pattern and you won’t know where your customers are looking.
Consider your restaurant’s brand – what colors fit this mold?
If you’re planning to give your customers a more fun and upbeat vibe, use a lot of vibrant colors!
If you’re offering your customers a more traditional and classy meal, consider more neutral tones.
Various colors have different psychological effects on people, so do your research and choose a color scheme that fits your restaurant’s atmosphere. Choose colors that stick to your restaurant’s overall color scheme.
6. Use Images with Caution
Food images are not always the best option for menus. People often associate pictures of food on menus with food chains that I will refrain from mentioning – but I bet I can guess what names popped into your head.
You don’t want to give the same feel for your restaurant as these chains, as it makes consumers view you as less original and unique. It’s often advised to refrain from using images at all on menus; instead, use mouth-watering descriptions as discussed in the following tip.
Additionally, if you are going to use pictures, they need to be of the highest quality, which can get expensive. You may end up spending unnecessary funds on a few good photos that don’t increase sales.
7. Write Descriptive Text
Instead of relying on images, tell consumers exactly what they’re getting with each dish on your menu. It’s a proven fact that descriptive copy sells; whether selling a story, a piece of technology, a food item, and on, people like to know the details. Descriptive text is what grabs people’s attention.
Create a short and simple, yet mouth-watering description for each item on your menu. If the customer was interested enough by the title of the dish to read the descriptive copy, it’s likely the description will only further push them to ordering that dish.
Descriptions can also help your restaurant achieve better feedback, as the customers are ordering a dish that they are fairly positive they will enjoy from the dish’s base, to the side, to the sauce.
8. Include an Allergen Key
Today, a lot of people have and are more aware of allergies and food intolerances. In fact, in certain places, it’s illegal not to list certain allergens on your menu.
To help guide those customers and save your restaurant time and money when an order is inevitably prepared wrong (because nobody is perfect and mistakes are bound to happen), create an allergen key that tells consumers exactly what is included in each item.
Some allergens to include are:
- Tree Nuts
There are many more allergens that can be listen on your menu, but above states the most basic. Consider each item and if it contains something that people may have interances for, and, if so, add it to your list!
Put your key at the bottom of the menu, with the appropriate lettering next to each item.
9. Include Menu Modifiers
Sometimes, customers want to change the original dish to make it more delectable for them personally. If you have decided your restaurant will allow this, offer a section on your menu that informs customers of their options or item substitutes and any price change this sub will incur.
A menu modifier can be placed between the sides and entrees section, as, typically, it is the sides that will be modified. However, another ideal location is in the descriptive text under the entree heading.
For instance, if your restaurant offers burgers or sandwiches and has bread substitutes, this can be put on the top or bottom of the burgers and sandwiches section.
10. Include Menu Spotlights
As mentioned above, it’s important to highlight your best-selling and higher priced items.
Using menu spotlights, such as bolded items, thinly boxed items, or starred items draws customers eyes to those items. It also entices customers to order that item because they feel they are ordering something more special than the rest of the items on the menu.
11. Disregard Currency Signs
Using currency signs reminds customers how much money they are spending, making numbers without currency signs more inviting.
While people know they are going to spend money when going out to eat, you don’t want to make them overly aware of this fact, as it causes them to spend less.
12. Use Pleasant Looking Prices
Regarding currency and pricing, not only should you avoid currency signs, but you should also use friendlier numbers.
There have been countless studies on the psychology of numbers that you likely have noticed at least a few times yourself – maybe even more. Different numbers are seen in different lights, and a few cents can greatly impact a consumer’s choice and opinion on a dish.
Consider using items with .50 cent or .95 cent endings. These numbers come off more pleasant to consumers and don’t make consumers feel like your establishment is trying to play mind games with them by making an item $11.99 instead of $12.00.
13. Double Check Price Alignment
Again, you don’t want your menu to remind people of how much money they’re spending. Aligning prices does exactly this and, even more, gives consumers the perfect layout to compare item prices.
14. Consider Illustrations/Graphics
If you are looking to include art on your menu, illustrations and graphics are a great alternative to photos of food.
These illustrations should not be about the food, but more about your brand. If your brand has the vibe that illustrations on your menu would complement, then use them!
Before deciding to include any illustrations, though, ensure they are unique to your brand and actually make sense with your restaurant’s ambiance. You don’t want people looking at your menu confused why it looks the way it does.
Only use an illustration or graphic design if it really fits, and don’t overdo it.
15. Consider White Space
Similar to website design, the importance of white space is often overlooked when designing menus.
Utilizing white space further draws the consumer’s eye to the menu items, and creates a simpler, easier-to-comprehend menu design. If your customer is distracted by the art or busy-ness of your menu design, this can deter their ordering habits and hurt your business.
16. Consider Dividers
Menus can sometimes have an overwhelming amount of information on them, so it’s wise to break that information up when appropriate. Using boxes or lines can organize and simplify your menu, making it easier to digest for customers.
Remember those sections and headers discussed earlier? Use boxes or lines between each section to show customers exactly which items belong in which section even more than before.
17. Include Your Logo
Your logo is what consumers picture when first thinking of your brand. Therefore, it’s important that consumers know what your logo is and see it every chance you have to show it to them.
Your menu is an ideal place to put your restaurant logo, because it is the epitome of your brand and sets the tone for the rest of the menu. The logo can influence the coloring, typography, and imagery/illustrations on your menu. Including the logo ensures that everything on your menu fits with your brand perfectly.
18. Highlight Your Specials
These dishes are called specials because, well, they are special! You want to draw attraction to these dishes, so highlighting them on your menu is vital.
Some ways to incorporate spotlighted specials is having a boxed section at the top of your menu, on the back side of your menu, or on a small slip of paper so you don’t have to reprint your menu regularly.
The more diverse sections a consumer has to look at, the less they focus on price and the more they focus on what items they really want.
19. Consider Menu Size Carefully
Sometimes, less is more. When picking out the items (and how many items) you will offer on your menu, try to limit the number to your must-have items. If consumers have too many choices, this can sometimes make it more difficult to pick an item.
Additionally, too many items on the menu can confuse the kitchen and lead to more kitchen mishaps, which will lower review rates. It’s better to have a more concise menu and top-notch service than wondering if a customer is wishing for had an item they never knew was on the menu to begin with.
20. Consider Telling Your Story
You probably have seen this tip and actually noticed it in real life before. You may even be thinking of a specific restaurant or two when this tip is mentioned. Why? Because everyone loves a good story.
If you are willing to share your story with your consumers, it will give them and inside look into who you are and really get to know the face(s) behind the brand they love. Not to mention, storytelling makes brands memorable, which will increase repeat customers and benefit your profits.
21. Try Multiple Menu Designs
If you don’t have one specific vision for your ideal menu, design a few different versions using the tips mentioned above.
You can either decide from immediately seeing the test-version, or actually test out the different menus and see which customers are most receptive to.
Having multiple menu designs is never a bad thing, and gives you more room to play around with all the ideas flowing through your head. Have fun with it!
Canva is an easy-to-use online design tool that offers users diverse templates to use as the base of their menus or the option to design their own from scratch. Canva lets users upload their own graphics and have complete design control with minimal limitations.
Canva is free to use, but also offers a premium plan that allows users to create marketing material with the same theme as their menus. The Canva Pro plan is $9.97 per month, and you can start using Canva with a free 30-day trial.
2. Design Bold
Design Bold is similar to Canva, as it offers a variety of templates to kickstart users design processes. Design Bold’s free plan gives users access to free stock photos, editing and resizing tools, and the ability to download in PNG, JPG, and PDF formatting. The tool prides itself on being extremely easy to use, taking minimal amounts of users time to create masterpieces.
Design Bold offers a free plan and a Pro plan for $9.99 per month with a 30-day free trial. The Pro plan offers significantly more features, including using photos from social media accounts, scheduling social media posts, custom color palettes, and more storage and layout options.
3. Adobe Spark
Adobe Spark is a preferred choice for more experienced graphic designers because it offers more premium design features and a bigger variety of typography and imagery on its free plan. However, the tool is also helpful to less experienced designers who are looking to spend a bit more time on their menus.
While Adobe Spark can be used for free, you will need to join with a paid subscription to remove the brand’s watermark and add your own logo. Adobe Spark’s individual plan costs $13.60 monthly and its Team plan costs $27.29 monthly.
iMenuPro was one of the first menu design tools on the market and, unlike the other options, was created specifically for menu building. The tool offers customizable menu templates with easy-to-use drag and drop features. The tool also allows users to save food items on its database to easily change specials.
iMenuPro offers a free trial, but is $15 per month once that trial has ended.
5. Poster My Wall
Poster My Wall offers thousands of original templates to its users. The tool is especially intuitive to help beginner menu makers maintain clean and organized menu designs.
Poster My Wall offers a free version with the option to purchase add-ons as you go. However, most users prefer the tools Premium or Premium Plus subscriptions. The Premium plan costs $99.95 annually and provides access to unlimited image downloads. The Premium Plus plan costs $319.95 per year giving unlimited use of both video and image downloads.
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Multiply your delivery orders and start earning more revenue with 2ndKitchen – it’s free to get started!
Designing Your New Menu
Designing a menu for your restaurant is an incredibly important marketing tactic that should not be overlooked when opening or rebranding your business.
Remember the 21 tips mentioned to help create an engaging, enticing, and beautiful menu for your restaurant. If you aren’t sold on a tool, all the menu design tools listed above offer free trials. Test out different menu designs on different tools to find the best option for your brand.
So, get planning and start designing a great looking menu that all of your customers will love.
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