What's in a Good Menu Design?

What's in a Good Menu Design?


There's no point in having the best food in town if people don't order it!

Feb 19 6 minute read

Did you know that on average, people look at a restaurant’s menu for only 109 seconds? Not that surprising, considering the fact that our attention span has immensely decreased in the last couple of years. 

Whatever the reason, it also means that you only have those precious 109 seconds to convince your guest to choose either your most profitable item, or to order more because of your astonishing menu design. 

Luckily for us, psychology is here to guide us with designing your menu in order to use it as a marketing tool. 

I hereby present to you the list of smart marketing tricks that should be used in the design of your menu (according to the experts):

1. Start with the position of the products you’re selling

Where you place certain items can determine sales of that particular dish. Research has been done on what they call “the sweet spot” on the menu, the place where people tend to look first when glancing at a menu. People used to believe this sweet spot was the top right of the page, but more recent findings showed that people generally read menus like they read other content like a book, from left to right, from top to bottom.

This pattern depends on the layout of the menu as well. For example, when a menu is only one page and vertically oriented, people usually look at the centre first, before moving on to the top. With double pages that are horizontally oriented, people do often start at the right top.

Besides the normal reading pattern, you can draw attention to certain items by highlighting them with bold fonts, putting a box around it or giving it a colour. More on these techniques later.

2. Use descriptive and appealing copy

When describing dishes, a little creativity might do good for your sales. Depending on the type of restaurant, you can create funny titles or make it a bit more formal but still short, to the point and entertaining.

The explanation of a dish should never be repetitive or too lengthy, but it’s important to pay attention to possible allergies while at the same time mentioning the most important ingredients that come with the dish.

Besides, ways of explaining a dish can make it look more worthy of your money. If you want to charge €40 for a main course, you also want to make the dish sound like it’s totally worth those 40 euros for people to order it. When you believe it, they will too.

3. Be conscious of the use of pictures

If you’re Dutch, you might know there are several Facebook accounts dedicated to pictures of food that don’t look as tempting as the creator of it had hoped. Pictures in a menu can work counterproductive if they are not limited and of high quality. 

Pictures work best for large franchise companies and cheaper establishments and can promote certain products (a picture can increase sales of a product by 30%). 

Instead of using pictures, you can also think about illustrations to enhance menu items. Nicely designed illustrations come across as more professional and attractive than most pictures. Adding illustrations to your menu also allows you to show your brand identity.

4. Don’t let your prices determine what items will sell best

People (especially us Dutchies) tend to look at prices first if they are presented in a noticeable way. That’s why many restaurants use tricks to hide the prices or to make them look less intimidating. They hide the price straight behind the copy for example. 

Another trick that can be used with pricing, is to leave out the currency sign. In fact, I would advise to always leave the currency sign out, no matter the type of restaurant you own. This makes the prices look way more approachable. 

Having said that, the last thing people do as a pricing strategy is to place a ‘decoy item’ on the menu. The trick is to place one item on the menu which seems overpriced, to make the other dishes look less expensive. And according to psychology, this really works.

5. Match your menu design with the company’s identity

The last thing that’s important when making a menu, is the actual design that you choose. Factors that are important when designing a menu are the font(s), the colours and the use of graphics.

  • Typography: the type of fonts that you use can be deciding for what items people will choose. Don’t be afraid to use different styles, this will only make it more interesting for customers to read your menu.
    Use of italics and bolding can make certain items sell better as it stands out. Choosing the right fonts will also be beneficial for readability.
  • Use of colours: colours can do a great job for your menu design. When using colours, be careful about what you want you want to get across to the customer. Colour psychology can be of influence in this case. The colours you choose need to match your organisation. For example, the colour red is seen to increase someone’s appetite, while blue is known as a relaxing colour that creates a sense of security (and reminds people of seafood). The colour yellow draws attention, and green gives people the feeling they are eating something healthy or eco-friendly.
  • Lining and boxes: lines and boxes can be used in menus to separate different sections on the menu. For example to draw attention to certain items, but also to increase readability by organising the dishes or just to make it look more interesting.

So now you know what experts do when it comes to menu engineering practices, it’s time to think about what you want and need for your own menu design. In order to make a start, you need to be well aware of what your brand stands for and how you want your guests’ experience in your restaurant to be. 

Designing a menu is not always easy, but if you do it right, it might just be one of the best marketing tools for your restaurant.

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