Need help creating a restaurant menu that’s both pretty and profitable? Use these tips to design beautiful menus worthy of your best dishes.

Design Tips for Creating a Restaurant Menu that Wows Your Customers

Here’s why you should put thought and effort into creating a restaurant menu that’s beautiful.

When patrons sit down, the first thing they look at is your menu. While you may be focused on the food, the atmosphere, and the excellent service, there’s a good argument for making a strong first impression. Think of a menu as an important piece of advertising that showcases your restaurant’s brand. Some menus are striking, eye-catching, and beautifully designed. Others are barely memorable. A menu only has a small window of time to make a big impact, so put effort into creating a menu that will wow your clientele and gets them excited about your food!

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If you’re creating a restaurant menu from scratch, it’s tough to know where to start. After all, you know food and the restaurant biz, but do you really understand the psychology of good graphic design?

Menu design is critically important. The design experts at Canva found that customers typically spend (on average) about 109 seconds scanning a restaurant’s menu. Although this sounds like a short amount of time, those valuable seconds leave a strong impression. In fact, menu design and readability can determine whether customers order an appetizer, decide on a specialty beverage, and ultimately end up ordering a meal they’re happy with.

Creating a menu is more than simply listing the dishes and setting the price (although those are important parts). Adding photos, graphics, and selecting the paper all play a factor in the overall look and feel of your menu design. It’s worth it to foot the bill for a designer and, most importantly a proofreader, to ensure your menu is just as great as your restaurant. A menu should impress every customer and should contribute to an awesome dining experience!

4 Tips for Creating a Restaurant Menu Customers Will Love

1. Conduct Research and Work Out Logistics

This is a step where restaurant owners often get ahead of themselves. When you scope out the local competition, chances are you’re looking at their food, service, and atmosphere. The last thing on your mind is the design of their menu.

When creating a restaurant menu, you want to stand out against the competition

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But before you head to the printers, check out the local competition and give their menus a closer look. Go in with a goal to get a general overview of the menus from other restaurants in your niche. If you’re opening a Greek restaurant, consider heading over to Greek Town for inspiration. If you’re opening a pizzeria, dining at the nearest homestyle Italian establishment may give you the unique ideas you’ve been searching for.

Conducting your own research when creating a restaurant menu is a chance to identify the areas where your competitors are lacking.

  • Do you see a common theme among other establishments you can use to your advantage to improve or stand out?
  • Are their menus easy to read and navigate?
  • Are the prices and portions clearly conveyed?
  • Do the descriptions whet your appetite?

Some restaurants opt for a simple menu made from paper. In a casual diner setting, the menus may even double as placemats, or sit on the table throughout the meal in special holders (typically alongside the condiments). This works great for a relaxed restaurant but could seem cheap or too casual in a fine dining establishment.

Understanding logistics is another huge part of creating a restaurant menu that’s designed to work in your favor. The process of creating the menu should involve your staff and their input as well. Servers may point out that large menus are tough to navigate atop small bistro tables. The maître d‘ may have unique insight into the dishes that are bringing customers to the door so you can list them front and center. Your bartender might have his or her own take on the way your menu stands up to drinks and finger foods.

According to The Balance Small Business, recognizing and acknowledging the “link” between a restaurant’s kitchen and an effective menu is hugely important since each part impacts the other. “The size and setup of your kitchen will directly impact the size and style of your menu. A smaller kitchen will obviously limit the variety of the dishes you can serve.” Smaller restaurants may want to really highlight or showcase some standout dishes. Save space by listing specials on a board in the front of the house instead of adding another menu to the table.

Doing your research is an important step before you even start creating your menu. Look at the competition and consult with your staff. Establish a clear plan for creating a restaurant menu that accounts for all the important aspects of your business including budget, table size, the environment, and atmosphere.

2. Choose a Theme Cohesive with Your Entire Establishment

Your restaurant menu should catch the attention of your customers

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Creating a restaurant menu starts with choosing a solid theme. The overall theme of the menu should be cohesive with the rest of the establishment itself. Every aspect from material to shape and color of the menu is influenced by theme and should complement the rest of your restaurant. Ideally, your restaurant’s theme and menu theme will fit together like puzzle pieces. A customer should be able to look at your dinner menu and know exactly what type of restaurant they’re dining at and what to expect.

Keeping the overall theme in mind when creating a restaurant menu is important to the process because it’s easy to get caught up with what looks pretty or what looks modern. Yet, you want to remain true to your establishment’s personality. In other words, the menu should look, talk, and act like you in every way. A menu theme that successfully aligns well with the ambiance, décor, and vibe of your establishment is a good fit.

For example, if you’re running a classy, upscale, and romantic establishment with small plates, then a bright red cowgirl shaped boot menu with fringe on the side is probably not for you. However, if you’re a southern-style BBQ joint looking to bring Texas tastes to the upper Midwest, a loud menu may be the fun touch needed to help you stand out to customers!

Theme also largely influences the way you present meals and drinks on the menu. Quirky and cute names for your dishes are appropriate for certain establishments, but the end goal should always be to convey the details of the dish to the customer. For example, “The Brooklyn Bagel” with lox, capers, and cream cheese is straightforward and fun. “The Edward,” on the other hand, may require a more in-depth description. A handful of uniquely named dishes is often plenty to let diners in on the vibe without confusing them (or forcing them to spend hours deciphering the details of each dish).

Remember to always keep customers in mind and consider their expectations when creating a restaurant menu and choosing a concept to pair with your establishment. This extends to the dishes that you add to your menu as well. If you’re opening up a 60’s breakfast diner, then caviar likely doesn’t go on the menu, but pancakes definitely should. After all, can you imagine a breakfast place without pancakes?!

3. Invest in Design and Take Visuals, Fonts, and Colors Seriously

Once you’ve settled on a proper theme, the design elements are by far one of the most (if not THE most) important part of creating a restaurant menu. Typing up your menu in a word document, hitting print then calling it quits is not enough. As a restaurant owner, take the visuals seriously and invest in a proper menu design program. Adobe Spark, iMenuPro and Canva are a few of the top-rated programs for creating a restaurant menu. Better yet, save yourself time and stress by hiring a creative professional to help with the overall layout.

When creating a restaurant menu, never skimp on design

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The design elements you choose will largely influence the success of your restaurant’s menu. Your food could be amazing, there could be a Top Chef cooking in your kitchen, but if the menu doesn’t entice customers to order food, you’ll be out of business. Each design element down to the tiniest detail matters.

The global restaurant consultants at Aaron Allen & Associates report that colors actually have a subconscious impact on the way customers perceive food. This should ALWAYS be an important consideration when designing and creating a restaurant menu. Each color carries a different meaning and people tend to associate certain emotions with colors. Putting extra thought into the color font you choose or the color of the border on your menu really matters.

Studies found most customers tend to think of nature and freshness when seeing the color green. If you’re opening an all-natural clean eating place or a farm to table restaurant, incorporating green is a great detail to highlight your strengths and set the right tone.

Another important piece of design is images. Ensure any and all pictures are chosen wisely. High-quality photos can be appetizing in the right setting, but poor quality pictures have the opposite effect. All photos should include a clear description as well. In the case of menu-writing, pictures don’t say a thousand words and may even confuse your customers.

Consider playing with the sizing of text to emphasize certain meals, specials, or a house dish. Put extra thought into the placement of food items on the menu. When you’re creating a restaurant menu, the arrangement of categories is very important. Research shows that entrees (including soup and salad) more prominently displayed than the appetizer section, hindered customers from ordering anything but dinner. Menu design mistakes hurt your restaurant’s profit margins. You want those hungry diners to enjoy ALL your dishes, including an appetizer!

Lastly, think about how the design aesthetic of your main dinner menu will work with your other menus. How will the design of your kids’ menu (if you’re running a family-friendly establishment) compliment your main menu? What design elements will your drink menu and entre menu have in common?

4. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread and Edit, Edit, Edit

Creating a restaurant menu is often an investment. The costs of opening a restaurant and to keep operations running smoothly are already steep enough. This is why proofreading and editing of your menu is critical—BEFORE you print. Avoid the extra costs of a preventable menu mistake or typo!

Proofread your menu to check the way the language flows. Ask some outside sources to offer their opinion. Is the menu easy to read? Is it clear? Are the descriptions easy to follow and appetizing? What about the design? Listen carefully to any and all feedback.

Testing the menu with customers and asking what elements they like and dislike, can help you build your business and connect with clientele. Asking your customers about the meals or drinks they would (or wouldn’t) order is another awesome way to get valuable feedback and make edits before the final version is printed and crafted.

Involving others in the editing process is a smart way to get different perspectives and a clear idea how the menu reads before you commit to ordering. Again, for a restaurant business, money is tight and you don’t want to order 200 menus only to see the word pankakes splattered everywhere. It’s an instant turnoff when a menu has whiteout or stickers covering up the mistakes.

Editing the menu several times before opening day is another positive way to encourage other feedback and bond as a united team; the staff, cooks, managers, etc. likely have great opinions when it comes to creating a restaurant menu. They might also offer up a few great areas for improvement! At the end of the day, when you believe your menu is ready, splurge on professional proofreading. It’s a small investment that will protect the larger investment of printing, binding and preparing new menus.

Your menu gives the first impression of your restaurant and you want to put your best foot forward. Creating a restaurant menu that’s both profitable and pretty is the key to thriving as a successful food establishment in today’s competitive industry. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to revamp your food selection, use these helpful tips for creating a restaurant menu everyone will LOVE!


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