Guide To Menu Design: Easy Tips For Creating A Restaurant Menu

Delivering effective presentations is essentially a universal skill set required in schools, your workplace, and even in day-to-day interactions. Your restaurant may offer exceptional dishes, but all these would remain in the background unless you put them out on display. This is when a restaurant menu comes into play – show off the offerings your restaurant has because it’s finally their time to shine!

While it is a challenge to find out when the very first physical restaurant menu was ever invented, online menus have made an appearance since late 1990s.

Taking fast food giant McDonald’s as an example, here is one of their very first menus in 1955:

Comparing the above with the current:

McDonald’s Full Explorer online menu

McDonald’s Full Explorer online menu

Notice the difference? Clarity and simplicity seem to be what this household name is aiming for in its menu. Another point of difference is that McDonald’s brought their menu online. Before we even delve into the pros and cons of physical and online menus, let’s go back to basics by exploring the various tips for constructing the most impressive (physical) restaurant menu.

To get started, be certain about your restaurant’s branding – for Starbucks, it is “The New Third Place”; it isn’t just a coffee shop for patrons to hang between work and home, but a meaningful one that connects with patrons emotionally. The atmosphere, music, and complicated drink names (just take Triple, Venti, Half Sweet, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato for example) are all part of this worldwide coffee chain’s ingenious strategy in conveying their brand identity - relaxation and exclusivity. Make sure your menu aligns with that in order for customers to have an all-encompassing experience at your restaurant. Sounds challenging? Not at all!

With so many free tools online, you can be your own menu designer. To kick start your inspiration, hop over to Pinterest for examples of well-crafted menus.

1. Material

While there is no fixed answer to the most suitable material for your restaurant menu, do keep in mind that the material of menu = brand image of restaurant.  If you aim to portray your restaurant as a classy and high-end dining space, you could opt for hardcovers or even leather; whereas, a basic vintage paper menu (on a clipboard) would work just fine if you plan to adopt the hipster concept.  

Menu design idea for a specialty coffee shop in Dublin

Menu design idea for a specialty coffee shop in Dublin

2. Layout

Next up, layout. Columns and margins help in organising content, but too many of them could leave patrons at a loss, not knowing what to focus on. For menus crammed with words, adopting the idea of negative space – allocating items with higher profit margins their own space – helps, as the eye innately focuses on relatively emptier spaces.

If your restaurant is family-oriented, a cheery, illustration-heavy menu could work.

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

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

As for fine-dining restaurants, popular menu options would be the minimalistic ones:

A french classic look with neat alignment to frame the various categories for fine dining restaurant, Port er House, Jakarta

A french classic look with neat alignment to frame the various categories for fine dining restaurant, Port er House, Jakarta

Well, there is certainly no need to crack your head over this. There are many free tools online with pre-designed menu layouts for your restaurant. Try Canva if you’re feeling lazy, or iMenuPro (for USD15/month) if you are looking for a more sophisticated menu maker developed just for F&B merchants like you.

3. Typography

Words will be making the bulk of your menu; hence typography is an essential aspect of menu design. It should be in sync with the overall tone and feel of your menu design. Firstly, the font chosen should be legible. As many designers have mentioned, try to keep within 3 typefaces on a page to avoid unnecessary chaos. Overtly cursive fonts can strain the customers’ eyes, resulting in inefficient presentation of dishes. For Victorian-style menus, fancy and elaborate fonts may work; however, always remember to complement it with clean fonts that are gentle on the eyes.

Next, remember to adjust spacings to reduce clutter. Finally, bold and italicise when appropriate – but never overuse typographical emphasis. Do explore, which offers over 10 000 exclusive free downloadable fonts.

4. Size and Content Placement

To combat the short attention span of customers, limit menu size and be strategic in content placement.

“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. Still, many restaurants still swear by big menus in defence of variety.

Now here comes the real deal: content placement. The typical restaurant menu comprises of appetisers, mains and desserts. Make sure that the flow of items is logical. It has commonly been reported that customers first notice the “sweet spot” (top right hand corner) of the menu. However, a new study by San Francisco State University found that customers read menus just like how they would read a book. Note that most customers only spend an average of 109 seconds reading a menu. Customers often remember and purchase the first two items or the last item in each category, hence placing items with the highest profit margins in these spaces would be a wise move.

Snippet of Brewerkz Singapore’s menu

Snippet of Brewerkz Singapore’s menu

In the age of increasing health awareness, an allergy list and calorie count notation for specific dietary concerns can further inform customers on their options.

Cocu’s Kitchen uses nutritional symbols for their menu

Cocu’s Kitchen uses nutritional symbols for their menu

Needless to say, do not forget to include chef recommendations. This helps in humanising and further highlighting the dishes you wish to promote. If you need graphics for pictorial notations, try getting them from the Noun Project.

5. Vocabulary

If you could paint a picture using words, then why not? Item descriptions serve as a prelude to your dishes, so try spending more time on the choice of words for this.  

A study revealed that the usage of descriptive labels increased sales by 27%.


You need not be too wordy, simply make sure the adjectives used have that punch in them. The main aim of these descriptions is to entice and educate customers about the dishes. Use the adjectives to accentuate the senses of customers. Though tacky, buzzwords work well in descriptions; culinary jargon – on the other hand – are better left untouched.

Snippet of Lady M’s menu

Snippet of Lady M’s menu

Take Lady M’s short description of their signature mille crepes for example, “Twenty paper-thin handmade crepes stacked with layers of light pastry cream”. The unpretentious adjectives used to describe the thickness and heaviness of this pastry succinctly capture the taste of the world famous signature crepes. On top of that, notice the inclusion of “handmade”, doesn’t it evoke a scene of passionate pastry chefs hard at work?

6. Visuals

Images, if used correctly, can help enhance your menu’s attractiveness; however, too much of it can make your menu seem cheap and juvenile. According to Rapp, a professional, appetising photo of a particular dish could help to boost sales by 30%.

Perfect sushi shot for Fresh Food Market

Perfect sushi shot for Fresh Food Market

Unless your restaurant has well photographed images of your dishes, it would be better to completely abstain from including low quality, grainy images in the menu. Besides images of items your restaurant offers, you could also make use of this compilation of free stock photos when designing your menu.

In addition, ensure that there is colour coordination present. Unless your eatery is a fantasy filled rainbow-puking unicorn themed café, stay away from all seven colours of the rainbow and focus on just the few that are representative of your eatery. Here’s a list of commonly used colours for sensory stimulation:

·      Red

An intense colour used for stimulating appetites.

·     Green

Fresh. Healthy. Duh.

·      Blue

Soothing like the waves crashing onto the shore. Ah… Seafood!

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

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


To conclude, it’s safe to say that almost every restaurant uses a physical menu to market their restaurants; nevertheless, one menu is never going to be sufficient. The needs of customers are constantly changing. Right now, many restaurants are dealing with the tech-savvy millennial generation that demands instant gratification when it comes to food.

According to a study, 80% of customers want to see a menu before physically going down to the restaurant.


In short, ‘menus’ are one of the most googled terms when customers search online for restaurants.

If you are thinking of bringing your restaurant menu online (don’t worry, we got that covered too!), here are 8 tips for online menu engineering. Once you are all set to step up your F&B game, you could even try incorporating an online ordering system into your online menu to let your customers take charge of their own food orders.

With that, here are the 6 tips that would hopefully help your F&B business stand out from the sea of bland, conventional menus.


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