A menu is a key (and often overlooked) aspect of any café or restaurant. It’s a defining factor in whether people choose to eat at your establishment and can influence how much people spend.
The way you design your menu is arguably as important as your actual food offerings. With so much research done about psychology and the power of design over your decision-making, there’s a lot to consider…
If you’re opening a new café or restaurant or you’re looking to reinvent your hospitality venue with an updated menu (or if you’re just really into menu creation, design and optimisation), this article provides tips on how to create a great menu your patrons will love.
Menu design tip 1: give a good first impression
Diners will be preoccupied with all your sensory elements: the décor, atmosphere, diners at nearby tables, their friends and family, which means that your menu has to do its job in a very succinct, easily digestible manner.
A good first impression could be anything from the way it’s bound – a steakhouse could wrap their menus in cowhide to give off that decadent, cigar-room vibe; a café could use the burlap coffee sacks – to a nicely designed cover page or attractive headers that draw the eye in.
Popular Geelong restaurant Alma uses their love of art to create a cover page that captures people’s attention and attracts them towards the array of dishes on subsequent pages.
Menu design tip 2: Pick a font that fits your brand
The typeface you use gives off more than a good first impression. It can help customers identify the type of restaurant you are and what to expect from the food.
Generally, classy serif fonts are favoured by more expensive restaurants while modern san-serif fonts are preferred by hip cafes. However, there’s no winning formula. The best advice regarding fonts is that it should match your brand.
This doesn’t mean you can’t be bold with your choices, especially your headings. Try different sizes, different fonts, different angles until you’re happy.
Take a look at El Publico, the successful Mexican restaurant in Perth. Their menu expresses their casual nature and fun side through the simple use of cap locks, bold text and a few symbols…
Menu design tip 3: To include pictures or not?
Images are a contentious issue among hospitality owners. Some swear by them. Others vilify them. But like many touchy issues, there is no right answer.
The fact is, it depends a lot on your venue and your clientele. It makes little sense for a fine dining restaurant to litter their menu with cheap fast-food style photography. However, a couple of tasteful photos as a background to their headers may add value to the menu.
Another benefit of images is colour, which is good for style and vibrancy but also to affect your customer’s behaviour. It’s well known that red is meant to stimulate appetite (hence why it’s featured on so many major fast food outlets’ logos) or that green gives off a healthy vibe so consider using boxes or fonts or graphics based on colour.
Melbourne establishment Higher Ground displays this to good effect, combining their menu with a mouth-watering image of one of their trendy brunch dishes.
Menu design tip 4: menu engineering & placement
Diners scan over a menu. And studies have indicated that the top-right corner is the initial sweet spot. That’s why you may have noticed a lot of menus with items they’re keen to upsell featured prominently in that spot, like a banquet feast option or a market price fish or a plate of oysters.
The way you divide up your menu can make a big difference too. If you’re keen to upsell a profitable item, try inserting it into a text box with a frilly border and a short blurb about it. Decorative frames and graphics can make a big difference to the popularity of certain items.
Top Melbourne café Auction Rooms separates their menu with simple lines, modern fonts and with their more expensive lunch options placed on the top right corner:
Menu design tip 5: change up your dishes
Even the best restaurants can fall into the trap of keeping a menu stagnant for too long. It’s great to stick with dishes that your customers love but don’t be scared to freshen up your menu periodically.
Again, there’s no guaranteed recipe for success. However, adding a specials page with seasonal produce or a few new dishes you’re keen to experiment with can be a great way to keep people coming back, as is giving your menu a few tweaks every year or so.
Trendy Asian restaurant Rice Paper Scissors is renowned for their set price, tapas-style dishes. This type of menu structure allows them to simply swap out an unpopular dish for a new one every now and again.
If you’re looking for inspiration about the latest, vogue ingredients to add to your menu, make sure you read our recent article.