Best Practices for Rethinking Your Menu Design

By Tim Hilton, Foodable Industry Expert

This is the first article in a creative series focusing on the aesthetic and design aspects of your business. This series aims to help restaurants that handle their creative work in-house get a better understanding of best design practices and avoid common pitfalls to create a more appealing visual identity.

Menu design is a hugely important part of any restaurant and is vital to your restaurant’s identity. Just as you should spend time on careful menu engineering, you should equally consider a focused menu design. The way your menu looks has a huge impact on your sales and can help to enhance the dining experience.

Below, we try to explain how certain design aspects and ideas influence how your customers read your menu, take in information, and make decisions on what dishes to purchase. A well-designed menu holds the power to help you drive sales of high profit dishes and much more.

Structure

The structure of your menu is the foundation of a well-designed menu and sets the general tone for you visual identity. Contrary to popular belief, there is no “sweet spot” on your menu, as studies have shown that we read restaurant menus very much like we read books. Our eye scanning pattern start in the top right, moving onto the opposite side of the page and continuing in a criss-cross pattern (see diagram below).

Photo Courtesy of Tim Hilton — Pinterest.

Typography

Typography hierarchy is another important aspect, as we focus more easily when text is broken up with headings, bold and cursive/italic text, as well as boxes, borders, and line breaks. Aside from the obvious categorization (appetizers, mains, extras, etc.), it’s worth considering grouping dishes based on other criteria, such as type of meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner) or specials to break things up even further, increasing readability.

Layout

We’re naturally drawn to empty spaces when reading. Consider putting specials options in a box, or otherwise differentiated from the main layout, in these places throughout your menu. These design elements are also extremely helpful in minimizing readers fatigue by breaking up your menu design to make it more appealing and making it easier to read. You’ll want to avoid dividing your menu into too many columns, making the text too crowded, small, or hard to read. Limiting your menu to a maximum of seven or so dishes per category helps to keep things concise and easy on the eye.

Photography and Illustrations

Photography — when used correctly — can be a great way to enhance your menu design but needs to be used in extreme moderation. First of all, make sure you hire a food photographer that can take well-lit, professional photos of your food. And to avoid making your menu looking cheap and cluttered, don’t use more than one or two.

Another menu design tool that can be used in place of photography is illustrations. Illustrations that matches the look and feel of your restaurant’s visual identity is a great way to embellish your menu and make it more interesting to look at. Illustrations can also be used more freely, giving you plenty of creative options.

Color

Using color is another way to make your menu more appealing. Certain colors have different psychological associations and can be used to invoke different sensations. Yellow and orange stimulate appetite, as well as being light and playful, and green is most often associated with healthy food options and simulates freshness. Blue hues are said to calm and suppress hunger, whereas red grabs your customers’ attention and is well suited for dishes you want to highlight.

You’ll want to make sure that whatever colors you use on your menu matches that of your overall branding and your restaurant’s visual identity. Don’t overdo the use of colours. A light splash used in the right place can often go a long way.

Descriptions and Pricing

Creative writing can be used to effectively describe dishes to your customers (saving time for your waitstaff), increase the perception of quality, and help communicate the atmosphere of your restaurant.

Avoid emphasizing prices on your menu, stay clear of rigid columns, opt for a center aligned layout, and place the price after the “natural” ending of a description. Studies have shown an increase in sales where restaurants have opted for menus without the currency symbol, as well as a single decimal as opposed to double decimal digits (e.g. 10.5 instead of 10.50).

Your menu serves as one of the first points of contact your customers have when entering your restaurant. It should be considered an important part of your marketing and treated accordingly. Putting thought and time into designing your menu has the potential to make it into a great tool used to increase sales and communicate your restaurant’s identity to your customers.