The Art of Menu Design

By Louise Dennington | March 28, 2022

When looking for somewhere to eat, what’s the first thing you want to check? Location – is it easy to get to? Availability – are you able to book for the day/time you want? Or perhaps most importantly, the food on offer – what’s the menu like?

A menu can be the first impression a customer has of your business. According to a Gallup poll, diners scan the menu in an average of just 109 seconds, meaning a menu has a small amount of time to make its desired impact.

During COVID, it was inevitable that as and when restaurants were able to cater under Government rules, that they would do so with a reduced menu, scaling down to the most popular and profitable dishes. This type of menu allows for more controlled costs and reduced outgoings but also drives revenue, prioritising dishes that are lower-cost and higher-margin.

This theory carries on through to the design of a menu, for example, by using visual cues such as decorative frames, different colours, shading, or illustrations to draw in the eye and highlight the dishes that you want to sell most. In fact, it is thought that dishes in the top right are the first to be looked at and the most likely to be ordered so plan what will be placed there and make it shout!

According to research from Cornell University, menu items sell 27% more if they’re given a great menu description – keep descriptions brief but use enticing words to pique interest. Also, talk to your regular customers about your menus and obtain their feedback. Is it certain dishes that attract them, or the atmosphere of the venue? Do they tend to order different dishes, or stick with the same one? Let your customers influence your menu design – after all, they know best!

The use of photography will hugely depend on the type of restaurant you operate and your target market. High-end restaurants generally avoid this, but if you feel photos are beneficial, make them high quality but a minimal number. Illustrations are a great, modern alternative.

In summary, key points to consider when designing a menu:

  • Size – People generally go to restaurants to socialise. Don’t make the menu too big so that people can’t see their friends across the table, or too small so that they’re struggling to read it!
  • Branding – It goes without saying that your menu should match the vibe of your restaurant and align with your brand. Consider the colours, placement of your logo and what format the menu will take (for example, should the paper be a certain texture or colour, should the menu be presented in a luxurious folder, how will it feel to physically hold?)
  • Layout – How will the dishes be segmented so that the options are visually clear to the customer? Youi may consider separate menus for desserts and drinks.
  • Marketing – What information should be on the menu? The address, phone number and website are useful to those who may choose to print the menu from your website as they’ll have all the information with them. 
  • Descriptions – The dish descriptions should have just the right amount of information and be appealing to the appetite of the customer. Instil confidence that they will get what they thought they were ordering.

For more information about menu engineering, we love this video from Breaking Bread ft. Gregg Rapp, Menu Engineer — How to build the perfect menu:

Three iconic pubs within Stamford have been long standing clients of ours, and we have worked through plenty of menu updates, both in terms of changes to dishes and changes to the design. 

Be it an everyday menu, or a menu for a special event, The Crown Hotel, The Tobie Norris and Paten & Co. each have their unique style that flows through all that they do. Keeping their brand at the heart of all that we design, we love bringing their visions to life,  upholding their values and showcasing their mouth-watering menus in line with the vibe and atmosphere that each venue offers.