Despite being warned, as children, to “never judge a book by its cover,” many of us do – and you can be sure it’s exactly what potential diners are doing before they even step foot inside your restaurant. In this regard, there are two things your restaurant needs to prioritize: its website (something you can do with the best restaurant website builders), and its menu.
Your restaurant’s menu is a little like your best dishes: that often, it’s not about what it contains, but how it’s presented. No matter how delicious the food you’re serving is, if it isn’t served on a clean plate in an aesthetically appealing way, no one will be interested – and the exact same principle applies to how you design and deliver your menu.
Want to learn how to design a restaurant menu, then? We can help.
Below, we’re serving up a sumptuous smorgasbord of ways to make your menu pop. From creating a clear menu hierarchy to incorporating high-quality images and typography, read on to tuck into our top 10 tips for creating an irresistible menu.
Creating a beautiful menu doesn’t start with the typography, the color, or even the dishes. How to design a restaurant menu starts with the reader – and that means getting to grips with who your diners are.
By understanding the nature of your target audience, you can tap into their preferences, habits, and desires to craft a menu that speaks to their tastes and elevates their dining experience.
Knowing your audience, however, goes beyond basic demographics. It’s about delving into the psychology of your diners; getting to grips with their unique expectations when they sit down at your table.
Do you cater to families with children, for instance? Create a separate menu for kids, with quizzes, coloring-in challenges, and word searches.
Are health-conscious millennials and Gen Z-ers your target market? Include vegan options, with clearly signposted gluten- and dairy-free options.
Might seniors be your key audience? Gravitate towards comforting, traditional dishes, with large fonts and big pictures to make the menu – and the food – easy to digest.
To depart from the solely food-related analogies for a moment, think of a well-organized menu as being like a symphony. It harmonizes flavors; pulling together different instruments and notes to create something that’s more than the sum of its parts. (And that sounds fantastic.)
A logical menu structure, then – or “hierarchy” – is vital.
It reduces decision fatigue, helps diners quickly navigate to the type of food they love most, and guides them, hand in hand, toward making a choice they’re happy with – while never feeling overwhelmed.
Some ways you can give your menu a clear hierarchy include organizing it by:
- Course: place appetizers first, followed by mains, then desserts.
- Cuisine or origin: group the Italian dishes – the pizza, pasta, and risotto – together, while letting your sushi, noodle dishes, and stir-fries shine in their own dedicated Asian section. Give local dishes their own portion of your menu, too, for those diners seeking the most authentic dining experience.
- Cooking method: group dishes into sections of your menu like “Grilled and Roasted” (for flame-grilled steak and roasted vegetables), “Slow-Cooked and Braised” (for stews, braised meats, and slow-cooked comfort food), and “Sauteed” (for stir-fries, sauteed mushrooms, and pan-seared fish).
Sometimes, less is more – and that goes for restaurant menus, too.
Just consider this writing, for example. It features short sentences. Simple language.
With lots of white space in between, above, and below the words.
It’s easy to look at. And easy to understand.
So when putting your restaurant’s menu together, embrace a minimal style. Don’t clog the page with too much text. Use white space to let the dishes do the talking. And give your menu’s reader only what they need to make an informed dinner decision – nothing more!
Okay, so images of food on the menu won’t – and don’t – work for all restaurants. And you should never include them at the cost of the overall aesthetics of the menu, or at the expense of information about each dish’s ingredients, allergens, and origins.
That said, high-quality images (used sparingly; remember what we said about minimalism!) can give your menu a real boost. They allow your diners to visualize the dish, and ensure it aligns with – or surpasses – their preconceived ideas about what it might look like. Pictures also enable your restaurant’s patrons to compare and contrast dishes, and act as a crucial enabler for those difficult dinner-time decisions.
Just remember to do this tastefully (pun absolutely intended). Don’t overwhelm the menu with images, and consider – as in the example below – numbering each image to help your menu’s readers quickly, easily match them to the right dish.
Whether it’s a hamburger, a plate of fish ‘n’ chips, or a chicken Caesar salad, all menus have staples – those unceasing, ever-present culinary constants.
However, no menu should remain static – and yours is no exception. That’s why your restaurant’s menu design needs to offer the freedom of flexibility; room to add, remove, and expand upon dishes, and space to rearrange and reorder them as required.
This flexibility is particularly important for incorporating seasonal and trending dishes. This could be as simple as more turkey at Thanksgiving, eggnog at Christmas, or American-inspired dishes during the 4th of July holidays. You’ll also want to change up what you’re serving based on the weather outside (few people want gazpacho in winter, or mulled wine in summer), as well as relying on the fruits and vegetables that are in season.
If you’re extra clever, you can even base drinks or dishes around topical people or places, to capitalize on current news or trending developments.
One example? The “ImPeach Sundae”, a peach-infused dessert from Philadelphia-based sweet shop The Franklin Fountain. It’s just one of several Donald Trump-themed dishes designed to capitalize on the former President’s infamy – and lack of sweetness – with quite the opposite.
Another reason menu flexibility is so crucial is for highlighting specials and signature dishes. These additions won’t be on your menu forever – heck, they may only be sticking around for one-night only – but it’s nevertheless important to leave a space for them to shine.
How you go about this depends on the particular menu hierarchy you’ve chosen. You may elect to showcase all your restaurant’s current specials all together, at the top of your menu for maximum visibility. Or you could choose to split them up into the relevant sections they belong to – so for example, featuring the evening’s special Quattro Formaggio pizza with the other Italian dishes, and placing the special satay soup in the “Asian Fusion” section.
Special and signature dishes are excellent ways of bringing in customers and giving established customers a novel reason to come back. So be sure to make them eye-catching on your menu: using bold lettering, a fresh color, or a different typeface to visually distinguish them from the staples.
Whether it’s an allergy to almonds or a disagreement with dairy, many diners will come to your restaurant with one – or several – dietary requirements. And it’s your job not only to cater to these, but ensure your menu makes it instant and unambiguous as to what allergens each dish on it contains.
One way to do this – as in the example below – is to use a key. This could be a series of symbols (such as “V” for Vegan, “VG” for Vegetarian, or “GF” for Gluten-Free) which you can add to each dish. Or, you could go one step further and incorporate dietary information into your menu hierarchy, and group all the dishes for specific diets – vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetarian – into their own specific, dedicated sections.
The font you use speaks volumes about the experience – and the food – your diners can expect… before they even raise a fork to their mouth.
Whether you want your restaurant to exude elegance, ooze rustic charm, or model a modern, minimal style, your choice of font will go a long way in determining whether you’re successful.
Playful, handwritten fonts might convey a casual, family-friendly atmosphere, while serif fonts suggest an air of poise and refinement perfect for high-class luxury eateries.
Whichever font you choose, we only have two rules.
The first? Keep it as consistent as possible. Retaining the same font throughout your restaurant’s menu, signage, and other branding materials will reinforce its identity, and leave a cohesive, memorable impression on your audience. (Just avoid Comic Sans – at all costs!)
The second? Keep it accessible. No diner wants to have to squint at a menu to puzzle out the complex machinations of a particularly flowery font. In the same way that you don’t want your menu’s pictures to overwhelm its text, you never want the font to take center stage and complicate the real order of business for the diner – choosing the perfect meal!
No one likes hard work – especially when they’ve taken the night off to dine out with their friends or family. So, when designing your restaurant’s website, be sure to make the entire process as simple and stress-free as possible.
Some tips for doing this include:
- Writing clear and concise descriptions of the dishes on your menu: avoiding jargon and overly complex language. Use descriptive words that evoke flavors and textures and clearly list ingredients – just don’t overdo it. (Leave salt and pepper out, for example!)
- Use visual cues – such as icons, colors, and bold fonts – to highlight dietary requirements and quickly signpost suitable choices for your diners.
- Offer interactive digital menus – ideally accessible via QR codes at the table – that feature images, more detailed dish descriptions, and scope for customization.
- Minimize the clutter by providing ample spacing between menu items, headings, and descriptions. Pick readable fonts (and font sizes!), and ensure there’s sufficient contrast between your menu’s text and its background. Remember, some of your diners may have visual impairments, or the lighting in your restaurant may simply be low – so accessibility is king!
Finally, be sure to canvass around for feedback about your menu (ideally, before it goes to print!). You’ll naturally want your first port of call here to be family and friends, and – while sharing your menu with them for their thoughts is fine – you should consider seeking customer feedback from a wider (and less biased) audience.
This could include seeking input via an online survey tool (such as SurveyMonkey), or pulling together a focus group to gather a range of diverse, dynamic perspectives.
Remember, though, that soliciting feedback is only half the battle – you need to implement it, too. To this end, bear in mind that restaurant menu design is an iterative process that’s never done, never “clocked” – only constantly, unceasingly evolving as your customers’ palates do.
Designing a restaurant can be daunting – especially when it is, most likely, shifting constantly as seasons change, specials come and go, and competition continues to rise.
Hopefully, though, the 10 restaurant menu design tips we’ve provided here have helped you approach this task with renewed vigor.
So before we go, let’s quickly recap the pointers on how to design a restaurant menu that we’ve discussed here:
- Know your audience
- Create a clear menu hierarchy
- Embrace minimalism and simplicity
- Utilize high-quality imagery
- Incorporate seasonal and trending items
- Highlight specials and signature dishes
- Offer dietary information
- Use typography wisely
- Make it easy for customers to order
- Test and gather feedback
That’s it from us! Good luck designing your own menu, and be sure to stay on top of the latest restaurant menu design trends as they emerge. Oh, and for more restaurant-related inspo, our guides to the best restaurant website templates – and the best food website examples on the internet – are both excellent places to start.
Ciao for now, then – or should we say chow for now? Either way, enjoy the process of designing your restaurant’s menu – and drop us a comment below to let us know how you go!