Guide to Menu Design: 6 Easy Tips For Creating a Restaurant Menu

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It’s a diner’s ultimate guide to your restaurant. It’s your restaurant’s presentation of everything you have to offer.

It’s the restaurant menu.

Your restaurant may offer exceptional dishes, but it would all remain in the background if you don’t flaunt it on a menu! Consumers want to have a good dining experience, but if they’re greeted at the table by a poorly-designed menu, it would be such a turn off.

Take a look at McDonald’s menu from 1955, for example:

The design is plain and boring, and yet feels really cluttered. Compare that with their current menu:

McDonald’s current menu on www.mcdonalds.com

McDonald’s current menu on www.mcdonalds.com

Notice the difference? It’s simpler for consumers to navigate a lot more appealing. What’s more, McDonald’s online users can now order straight out of their online menu too! But hold your horses. First, let’s go back to the basics and explore how you can construct the most impressive physical restaurant menu.


Sounds challenging? Not at all! With so many tools online, you can be your own menu designer. These 6 tips can help your F&B business stand out from the sea of bland, conventional menus. Let’s get started!

1. Pick the right material

While there is no fixed answer to the most suitable material for your restaurant menu, do keep in mind that it does reflect your brand’s image. Just by the overall look and feel, different materials can present different impressions to your diners. If you aim to portray your restaurant as a classy and high-end dining space, you could opt for hardcovers or even leather; whereas if you’re going for a hipster concept, a basic vintage paper menu on a clipboard will do the trick.

Menu design idea for a specialty coffee shop in Dublin

Menu design idea for a specialty coffee shop in Dublin

2. Organise the layout

Next up is the layout. Avoid bombarding your diners with chunks of text. They’re at a restaurant, not a library! Putting paragraphs of text together would only cause a terrible headache to your diners. Columns and margins help in organising content, but  too many could leave patrons confused.

If your menu is crammed with words, it might be wise to  apply the principle of negative space. But if you feel like words aren’t really effective for your own restaurant’s menu, illustration-heavy menus could work too. Get your family and friends to test your menu to ensure that diners can still understand what’s being served!

A children’s menu for kids to doodle while choosing their meal at South Main Kitchen, located in Alpharetta, GA.

A children’s menu for kids to doodle while choosing their meal at South Main Kitchen, located in Alpharetta, GA.

Ultimately, it all goes back to your restaurant’s identity. Fine-dining restaurants, for instance, often go for the minimalist look.

A classic look with neat alignment for California's oldest continuously family-owned winery, Gundlach Bundschu

A classic look with neat alignment for California's oldest continuously family-owned winery, Gundlach Bundschu

Now, now, there’s no need to scratch your heads over this. There are many simple tools online with pre-designed menu layouts available for you! Tinkering around with Canva is a great start for the non-design-centric restaurateur.

3. Spice it up with fonts

Think typography. Words are going to make up the bulk of your menu, which is why typography is an essential aspect of menu design. Diners want to know what they can order off your menu, but an overtly cursive font would make that impossible. Your fonts must complement the overall tone and feel of the entire menu.

As many designers have said before, keep within 3 legible typefaces on a page to avoid unnecessary chaos. Fonts also add to your brand’s personality, which is why you have to choose wisely. For Victorian-style menus, fancy and elaborate fonts may work; but clean fonts that are gentle on the eyes should still be used to complement the overall look. Of course, other things to note would be to use techniques like spacing, bolding and italicisation.

Don’t just stick to the constraints of typical fonts; Explore dafont.com to download from over 10,000 free fonts for your restaurant menu!

4. Get down to the nitty gritty

Consumers’ attention spans just seem to get worse as time goes by. In fact, it’s down to approximately 8 seconds now! Limiting menu sizes and placing content strategically might be the only way for restaurants to combat this growing problem.

‘Go small or go home’ seems to be the new mantra of many F&B owners. Darren Tristano, Executive Vice President of restaurant research and consulting firm Technomic, claimed that the average number of chain restaurant menu items fell in 2014. Smaller sized menus have been gaining popularity, and quality of food and service are commonly cited reasons for that. Nonetheless, many restaurants swear by big menus in defence of variety.

This mini-sized menu from thirty acres sure is simple yet effective and pleasant to the eye.

This mini-sized menu from thirty acres sure is simple yet effective and pleasant to the eye.

But here comes the real deal: content placement. Many have said that the top right hand corner of a menu is the sweet spot where diners’ eyes land first. But don’t pounce on it just yet! A new study by San Francisco State University found that customers actually read menus just like how they would read a book.

Diners also often remember and purchase the first two items or the last item in each category. So now you know where to place the items with the highest profit margins!

Moving on, the last thing you want is for your diners to start swelling up because of the food in your restaurant. In the age of increasing health awareness, an allergy list and calorie count notation for specific dietary concerns can be of great help to those who need it. If you need graphics for pictorial notations, try getting them from the Noun Project. Oh, and of course, don’t forget to add chef recommendations too!

Cocu’s Kitchen uses nutritional symbols for their menu.

Cocu’s Kitchen uses nutritional symbols for their menu.

5. Build up the vocabulary

Item descriptions serve as a prelude to your dishes, so try spending more time on the choice of words for that.  You don’t have to write an essay or use sophisticated language; simply make sure the adjectives you use can kickstart your diners’ visual imagination. Remember that the main aim is to entice and educate customers about the dishes. So keep it short and sweet, but still impactful to their senses.
Though tacky, buzzwords usually work well in descriptions while culinary jargon are better left untouched.

A snippet of City Hall Cafe & Pie Bar’s menu which includes descriptions for each of their menu items.

A snippet of City Hall Cafe & Pie Bar’s menu which includes descriptions for each of their menu items.

Take City Hall Cafe & Pie Bar’s short description of their Chicken Fried Chicken for example. “House-cut, tenderized, and double-dipped in our special seasoning. Served with Country Gravy and a dinner roll”. The unpretentious adjectives succinctly captures the flavour and tenderness this chicken has to offer. Also, notice the inclusion of the words ‘house-cut’ and ‘tenderized’? Doesn’t it cue a scene of passionate chefs hard at work in your mind?

6. Captivate the diners with images

Images and graphics, if used correctly (and in high quality), can help enhance your menu’s attractiveness. However, too much and it can make your menu seem cheap and juvenile. According to Rapp, a professionally-taken photo of a particular dish could help boost its sales by 30%.

Perfect sushi shot for Fresh Food Market

Perfect sushi shot for Fresh Food Market

The one most important thing to note about images and graphics is colour coordination. Unless your restaurant is a fantasy-filled, rainbow-puking unicorn themed café, it’s probably a good idea to stay away from using all seven colours on the spectrum for your menu’s design. Focus on just a few which help paint an image of your eatery’s identity.

Just like how red is often used to stimulate appetites, green represents healthiness and blue is associated with seafood from the ocean, there’s a ton of other colours to choose from.

Pastel-themed menu for a donut shop to convey the soft sweetness of their donuts.

Pastel-themed menu for a donut shop to convey the soft sweetness of their donuts.

We’ve covered physical menus, how about online ones?

It’s safe to say that almost every restaurant has a physical menu. Nevertheless, one menu is never going to be sufficient. Consumers have ever-changing attitudes and interests, especially in the restaurant industry. If that isn’t enough, restaurants now have the added pressure of dealing with the tech-savvy millennial generation that demands instant gratification when it comes to food.

Did someone say tech-savvy? That’s right. According to a study, 80% of customers want to see a menu before physically going down to the restaurant.

If you’re thinking of bringing your restaurant menu online after reading that, don’t worry, we got you covered. Here are 8 tips for online menu engineering. Online or physical, menus will always be your restaurant’s first impression on consumers when it comes to the food. So always remember to spend time considering how you can best create a helpful and enticing menu for your consumers based on the tips you’ve just read!


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