Top 10 Tips for Effective Restaurant Menu Design

Restaurant Marketing Menu Design Branding

Top 10 Tips for Effective Restaurant Menu Design

Your restaurant’s menu comes into contact with the customer every time they dine at your establishment. It is the face of your brand and is considered one of your most powerful branding tools. We’ve compiled the top 10 tips for effective restaurant menu design.

#1 Harmony

The menu format, ingredient listing and the price point must all work in harmony.

#2 Images

Use images sparingly on your menu. If you do use them, they must be high quality and must accurately reflect what your actual menu items look like when they are served. We highly recommend hiring an experienced photographer because they understand lighting and composition.

Unfortunately, I think we all have experienced dining at a chain restaurant where the images do not reflect what the dishes look like when served. It can be extremely disappointing, especially if it looks so good in the photo. One time we ordered a tasty-looking, colorful and fresh appetizer only to be disappointed with the brown mushy substance that was supposed to be “fresh veggies” when it was served to us. It did not look appetizing whatsoever and honestly didn’t taste that great.

Don’t lead people on to think that they are going to receive a picture-perfect meal if you can’t deliver. And on the note of leading customers on, we recommend that you absolutely do NOT use stock images of food or restaurants. A good alternative to food photos are placing images of your establishment on the menu.

Restaurant Marketing Menu Design Photography

#3 Typography

Bold typography is good. Variations in typography draws your customer’s attention to specific menu items first. For example, you may choose to highlight your specials or seasonal menu items in bold.

Don’t capitalize everything on your menu. It gets too hard to read and it becomes difficult for the reader to differentiate between menu items and item descriptions. THIS CAN BE A MAJOR TURN-OFF FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS. IMAGINE THIS ENTIRE BLOG BEING IN ALL CAPS. WE NEED THE VARIATION BETWEEN CAPITALS AND LOWERCASE TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN WORDS, SENTENCES, AND PARAGRAPHS WITH EASE. ALSO, THIS SEEMS PRETTY AGGRESSIVE. We recommend avoiding using all caps for your entire menu. It is okay to capitalize menu item titles like, “BLACK & BLEU BURGER” or “SPICY TUNA TEMPURA.”

Educate yourself in different types of fonts. Choose which font style reflects your restaurant’s branding and messaging the best.

  • Old English or blackletter: Traditional, old-style, elaborate
  • Old style serif: Traditional, classic, formal
  • Modern serif: Authority, impact
  • Transitional serif: Modern, plain, standard
  • Square or slab serif: Bold, strong, impactful
  • Sans serif: Modern, boldness varies by thickness of stroke
  • Script: Classic, fancy, important
  • Novelty: Varying mood depending on letterform, custom feel

What ever you do, please don’t use Comic Sans or Papyrus on your menu.

Restaurant Marketing Menu Design Branding

#4 Graphic Elements

Your menu may include small graphic elements to help your customer choose a dish that fits their dietary needs. These elements can indicate vegan, gluten-free, and other types of dishes. Another example we’ve all seen is the chili symbol next to the spicy items on the menu. Using these types of symbols can be very helpful for your customers and eliminates any questions that may come up.

#5 Story

Every restaurant has a story. The story ties into the restaurant’s branding and messaging, and should be reflected in the menu. The messaging can indicate what type of food your restaurant serves. For example, the messaging can be fun and energetic, reflecting a family-friendly restaurant, or it could be elegant and sophisticated, reflecting a high-end restaurant.

#6 Pricing

Price placement and formatting, believe it or not, can become a deciding factor that can steer your customer towards or away from certain menu items. Here’s a breakdown of some of the rules for posting your pricing on the menu:

  • If a dollar sign is used in the price, the customer is more likely to buy a cheaper option.
  • If prices are in a column, it will result in price shopping. Tack on the price at the end of the description in line with the text.
  • Don’t align prices vertically or horizontally.
  • Use non-traditional like 10.5 instead of 10.50.
  • Don’t rank items from low to high pricing.
  • Price “Anchoring”: place expensive items by cheaper, high-profit items.
  • Above $5 add $0.95 to the end. (ie. $10.50 to $10.95) the customer doesn’t notice the difference.

#7 Menu size

It is recommended that your customer sees all items at once on a one-page menu if possible. We’ve all seen those menus that don’t seem to end. In theory, a lot of options sounds great, but multi-page menus can be quite overwhelming and lead to indecisiveness.

#8 Organization

Use boxes and frame around menu items that you want to stand out, are your best sellers or your high profit items. This should be used on 1 out of every 8-10 items or in a block of 2 or 3 items at a time if your menu is longer.

Organize with boxes and lines, creating logical sections for customers to look at. As long as the groups are related.

#9 Item Description

Write descriptive copy that captivates the customer. Be simple, engaging, and stay true to the menu item. The tone of your menu item descriptions should match the your restaurant’s branding and messaging.

#10 Other design considerations

Want to look premium? Go minimal with menu design. Simple frames. Want to look trendy? Go hand drawn. Add hand drawn borders and elements. Good for pop-up restaurants, food trucks, casual. Interested in novelty menu design? Go for the newspaper look. Art deco. Color and pattern. Hand drawn.