Every customer sees your restaurant’s menu. It is a defining moment for a restaurant as customers frequently choose their order based on the menu. Therefore, menu design must satisfy customers and advance your business.

Menu Look and Restaurant Brand

In a very subtle manner, menus send messages to customers about your brand. Let’s put it this way, if the quality of how the menu looks doesn’t live up to your prices, you are in trouble. $20 dishes should not accompany a menu that appears like it was made at Kinko’s.

  • Research

Certainly, you may be skilled at attractive and effective menus, but if you are in the least bit hesitant, you ought to ask for help, either with a professional or reading up on the subject as much as possible. For example, many high-end restaurants center their list of dishes and prices. In contrast, columns encourage price comparison, and for restaurants that may make customers think about their wallet, this might not be in the restaurant’s best interest. A good strategy is to check out your competitors’ menus. You should not, however, assume that they have done everything correctly. This can be valuable in considering pricing (a topic that will be covered in its own section).

While menus for quick-service restaurants (which are normally boards) tend to be straightforward, sit down restaurants should be anything but. Your menu must make a statement and at the same time, be consistent with your brand, as represented through your restaurant’s decor, website and marketing. Sometimes, in a elegant minimalist presentation, going with your logo could be enough, yet that is normally not the case. Indeed, little graphical touches can suggest your restaurant’s personality and make your menu feel less empty. Mattering on the circumstance, white space can be reassuring or disconcerting.

Menus are an important factor in customer perception. Knowledge of your neighborhood will help you in getting off to a good start. Many times, restaurant menus will need to find a compromise between ideal branding and its demographic, especially as many customers check out menus online before they visit.

  • Some Basic Pointers

For some restaurants, something artistic might instill confidence in your customers and less inhibited in their food selections. With menus, too much of a good thing is too much. You don’t want a menu that’s over the top and too “loud” for your restaurant’s brand because it will not keep the customer from truly investigating their options. If a menu becomes only about brand (say with food with unusual, unexplained names), customers have trouble deciding. Consequently, organization is a must and in most cases should follow the traditional order (appetizer, entree, dessert, drinks).You will benefit from adding graphics, borders and pictures to plain text if the final product is not clutter and confusing. With bringing in visuals beyond the text, there are of course layout considerations that we will discuss later on.

The details matter too. Often, I see menus with different fonts that conflict with each other. Occasionally, I have seen the font size change from dish to dish. This is unacceptable. Have someone proof your menu before you publish it for spelling errors and other mistakes. Also, if you make it yourself, have input for someone with a good eye for these kind of things. Of course, common sense applies. A Cheesecake Factory size menu (which is really a booklet) overwhelms a customer and spreads the talent in a restaurant thin.

2. Layout, Content and Steering Customer Eyes

Customers have certain expectations when it comes to layout. They want clarity, so unless the dish is common or you have an especially extensive menu, a short list of the ingredients helps. Dishes that have one of the 8 main food allergies (peanuts, milk, eggs, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat) should say so. A menu shouldn’t be mysterious.

A good menu considers the customer’s basic needs. The font needs to readable as when your customers strain their eyes, they quickly lose patience. When the dishes come and they see what they could have gotten if they saw it, they will be rightfully annoyed. Limit the number of size fonts so it’s clear what’s a title, special dishes, normal fare and description.

Your menu’s success relies primarily in the layout and how it cooperates or clashes with the dishes and their prices.. Much of the menu’s layout is about drawing customers attention to items that benefit you the most.

  • The Right Dish

The first thing when deciding the placement of dishes is to prioritize what dishes and drinks you want customers to order.A lot of the items near the top will be the most expensive, but you shouldn’t forget to feature your signature dishes. Your restaurant’s long term performance should take priority over the one time payout (especially as its much harder to serve a filet mignon that customer think is worth $40). Still, you want to give preference to dishes with the bigger markups.

Once you have your list, you need to think strategically. You may want to put your most expensive dish in a very conspicuous place (at the end or beginning or in its own box) to make the rest of the prices look more reasonable. Boxes and shading receive more attention. Customers’ eyes start in similar places toward the top of the menu. You’d think you’d want to start off with your star dish. However, most customers don’t feel comfortable settling on a dish until they check out their options. A visible place farther down is better, but don’t bury it. When thinking about the last dishes, you should realize that the customers who are reading attentively may be more anxious about finding something they want. Food that is comforting and familiar work better down here.

Final Thoughts

Each restaurant is different and should have a menu to reflect that difference. For example, occasionally, a restaurant may want to include a short history. This is not an opportunity to feed your ego. If it isn’t something that would appear in a newspaper feature, leave it out. These blurbs answer questions customers may have about especially unique parts of a restaurant. When they don’t have questions, it’s a waste of space and a nuisance.

Menus are always a work in progress. You should evaluate it every 6 months for all the things covered above. Also, the menu evaluation should include some thought over your dishes and your pricing. A menu is at the heart of a restaurant so you should respect the process as many many eyes will read it and chose what they want.

Nonetheless, with thorough research and hard work, you will have a menu you can be proud.