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8 essential restaurant menu design tips

Great restaurant menu designs can enhance a dining experience, help customers make satisfying choices and stimulate appetite. However, a menu is more than just a list of the dishes a restaurant has available; it’s a powerful piece of branding capable of communicating a restaurant’s identity and driving profit—if it’s well designed.

For those in doubt about the power of good branding, look no further than what others in the hospitality space have to say. According to a recent survey we at 99designs by Vista conducted, the majority of small business leaders in hospitality (83%) say branding has a significant impact on their revenue, with 87% and 93% reporting it helps attract new customers and build trust, respectively.

Here, we discuss several visual strategies in menu design that can help increase profit margins for your restaurant clients. Forewarned: you might leave hungry.

1. Be aware of eye-scanning patterns

For years, restaurants have been designing their menus under the assumption that customers’ eyes are naturally drawn to the “sweet spot” in the upper right-hand corner and placing their higher profit items there. However, new research suggests that customers tend to read menus like a book, starting in the top left corner.

2. Divide the menu into logical sections

Make it easy for customers to search for dishes by arranging items sequentially and in logical groups, starting with the appetizers.

3. Use photos sparingly

Photos of food are more commonly associated with junk mail fliers and big chain restaurants like Denny’s; not high-end restaurants. If you do use photos, they must be of extremely high professional quality, which may be costly. In general, it’s better to leave the quality of the food to the customer’s imagination, because not all food photography will appeal to everyone.

4. Consider using illustration

Instead of photography, try using illustrations—they are more likely to be universally appealing and can help communicate the restaurant’s personality.

5. Don’t emphasize currency signs

Don’t make customers overly aware of how much they’re spending. Studies have shown that customers are more likely to spend more when currency signs are omitted.

6. Consider using boxes

Boxes draw attention to a group of menu items and are often used by restaurants to promote dishes with the highest profit margins, like pasta and other carb-based items.

7. Typography

Effective typography will communicate a restaurant’s brand and result in a legible menu. The typeface selection may depend on several practical factors, such as the amount of text needed to fit on the page comfortably. Using more than one typeface—say, to distinguish the names and descriptions of menu items—may help to guide customers through the menu.

8. Choose appropriate colours

Select colours based on your target audience and the theme of the restaurant. Different colours have different psychological effects on a viewer, so your colour scheme will help set the mood of a restaurant as well as draws attention to certain food items. Maudie’s Tex Mex Restaurant menu design is a fresh take on the warm colour scheme that is usually associated with Mexican cuisine

1. Data collected via online research firm Corus in June 2022 from 355 decision-makers from small businesses with no more than 100 employees in the hospitality industry across North America, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. This article was originally published in 2014. It has been updated with new examples and information.

The author Rebecca was born and raised in the Bay Area, where she currently lives. She has a BFA in Design with a Visual Communications emphasis from UC Davis. Her passions include travel, design, and all forms of noodles.

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