You know the menu is an integral part of the dining experience. Your menu design determines how customers engage with your restaurant's offerings and discover your food. But did you know that the humble restaurant menu can also be easiest way to increase your revenue?
When coming up with restaurant menu ideas, whether creating one from scratch or revamping your existing menu, there are certain things to consider, namely audience, format, product presentation and placement, and pricing.
Let’s begin with your audience. Of course, your location and the type of establishment you run will help determine the kinds of customers you attract. But have you considered the age of the people coming through your door?
Generation Z is growing up fast, and spending their money eating out. Catering to their needs could be a lucrative decision for a variety of restaurants.
Designing for Gen Z
Generation Z, those born between 1995 and the early 2000s, spent $78 million on eating out in 2016. They eat out more than any other generation before them.
But the way they approach choosing and ordering food is also very different from their predecessors. According to the Wall Street Journal, Gen Z is more budget-conscious than previous generations, having grown up during the Great Recession, and they are true digital natives.
They’re also less likely to drink socially.
All of these departures from generations past should inform not only your menu design, but your choice of menu format: digital or paper.
Recommended Reading: Gen Z Is Coming to Your Office. Get Ready to Adapt. Wall Street Journal
Because Gen Z customers (and for that matter, Millenials and Gen-Xers) are looking for the same kind of digital efficiency from their restaurants as they get from Amazon, interactive digital menus are popping up in establishments around the country.
Digital displays in restaurants like McDonald’s and Panera allow patrons to order and pay for their food quickly and efficiently — no human interaction required needed.
Fast-casual restaurants like Uno’s have adopted digital menus at the table, and online delivery apps are also gaining popularity fast. In fact, half of fast-casual customers prefer to pay digitally to speed up the process.
All of this technology takes the wait out of ordering and paying, allowing restaurants to turn over tables more quickly. And the data collected from customers’ orders can give owners real-time information about the popularity of food items. They can even collect feedback through surveys.
While the move toward digital menus is accelerating, not all restaurateurs are convinced it’s headed in the right direction.
Gordon Wright is the manager at Tony C’s, a fast-casual chain in the greater Boston area. In Wright's experience, the conversations that happen between a server and customer over a printed menu are the difference between a one-off transaction and building brand loyalty. Like social media, digital menus can be a potential distraction from the dining experience.
“Having a physical menu in front of a guest allows the server to connect with that guest and build a returning customer,” says Wright.
Whether a digital or printed menu is the right choice for your establishment, there are some design elements that remain the same. And the option to have both is still very much on the table.
Next, let's explore printed menu design ideas to help increase customer engagement and revenue.
1. Simplify To Make Ordering Easier
Wright stresses the importance of a simple, easy-to-read menu to make ordering as simple as possible for your patrons.
Tony C’s, a baseball-themed fast-casual restaurant named after Red Sox great Tony Conigliaro, offers patrons a simple one-page menu with food on the front and drinks on the back.
“We don’t want to overcomplicate the menu,” says Wright. “If you hand someone a 20-page menu, [the customer] is going to be overwhelmed. They’re going to miss something.”
Keep the menu choices simple and don’t over-do it on the descriptions.
As with any design project, be it a website or an advertisement, allowing for white space is key in helping customers focus on your food. White space refers to any space without imagery or text, regardless of color.
Including white space between menu items and sections helps customers read your menu without distraction.
Here’s an example:
This wine menu offers a small selection and allows for plenty of white space between wine selections. That way, the reader doesn’t miss a thing.
Tool Tip: Use Canva, an easy-to-use app with hundereds of free menu design templates to design or redesign your next menu.
Recommended Reading: How to design with white space Canva
2. Product Placement Matters
When a customer looks at a menu, they typically look at the first two items in a section and then scan to the last item. And studies have shown that they read menus much like a book, from the top left down and then to the next column if it exists.
That leaves a few spots for restaurants to showcase food items they really want to push. You can place high-revenue item, new items or old favorites in the first two spots of a section, or at the end.
Tony C’s begins with their appetizers and then moves through each course of the meal, making it easy for patrons to find what they’re looking for.
3. A Picture's Worth a Thousand Covers
Simplicity goes beyond menu offerings. It also includes imagery.
If you’ve had any experience designing your restaurant’s website, you know the right imagery, well-placed, can draw in more customers. The same holds true for imagery on menus.
An attractive, well-placed photo can increase profitability by 30 percent. The trick is knowing when and where to use them.
Placing too many images makes your menu look crowded and gives your patrons the impression of a cheap takeout establishment.
But a few well-placed images, particularly where diners look first, can help draw them in, and enticing them to treat themselves to a more extravagant dish than originally intended.
Use an image to highlight a popular menu item, one that you’re featuring at the beginning or end of a section.
4. Write Vivid Food Labels and Descriptions
A well-written description can increase sales for a menu item by up to 30 percent and can make customers feel more satisfied about their meal. But it’s all about how you label and describe the food (and making sure the food lives up to expectations).
Every good writer knows that to write something engaging, you need to “show, don’t tell.” Particularly if this is a dish that doesn’t include an image, you need to use well-chosen language that lets the reader see, smell and taste the dish before they order it.
Consider the following examples:
1. Pesto Fettuccine with Tomatoes
House-made fettuccine with homemade pesto and heirloom tomatoes
2. Vegan Pesto Fettuccine with Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes
Our fettuccine is made fresh daily. We blend it with our own vegan pesto, made with fresh basil, and top it with roasted heirloom tomatoes.
Example 1 communicates the facts. You know what you’re getting, but the dish doesn’t really pop or conjure delight. Example 2 example uses descriptive adjectives to paint a vivid mental picture of the attention and care that goes into preparing the meaal.
Modern diners are looking for authenticity in their food and in their restaurant experiences. Descriptions that communicate dishes using casual language that the way one friend talks to another, goes a long way to cultivating a more intimate, genuine connection with the diner.
You’ll notice in the second example, the description uses the pronoun 'we' to personalize and show the pride that the restaurant takes in cooking its dishes. It reminds the diner that they are being well taken care of by an entire team of people working together to prepare and serve their meal.
Finally, keep it short.
Don’t elaborate for paragraphs about your spaghetti and meatballs, for example. Take a sentence–or less–make it sound homey and comforting, and move on. Brevity reinforces and supports a simple, uncluttered menu design.
5. Experiment With Hiding and Displaying "$"
A recent study of lunch crowds in New York City by researchers at Cornell University found that when given the option between a menu with a numerical price including a dollar sign (eg. $5.00), and a numerical price without a dollar sign (eg. 5) or a written-out price (eg. five dollars), customers spent more money on dishes ordered from menus without dollar signs.
The way you display your pricing influences how much people spend, leaving out the dollar sign is very popular right now.
Try experimenting with displaying the dollar sign on your menu for a set period of time, then try removing it for the same period of time and see if it has any impact on your revenue. If it doesn’t, play with other formats to see what works best for your customer base.
6. Consider Color Choice
The colors on your menu should always reflect the theme of your restaurant. For example, Tony C’s uses red and blue, on brand with their baseball theme. If they were to use, say orange and black, the menu would seem off-brand and disjointed from the rest of the establishment.
Choose a few contrasting colors that make your menu both easy to read and attractive to the eye.
The strategic menu design methods above are table stakes if you're looking to use your restaurant menu to grow your revenue. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with the design too.
Your menu should reflect the theme and atmosphere of your restaurant, and it should play to a contemporary audience.
To get your creative juices flowing, here are a few trendy menu design ideas to keep your menu fresh and fun.
1. Hand-Drawn Menus
Hand-drawn or hand-designed menus lend a feeling of authenticity, whether it be a paper menu on the table or a display board behind the counter.
Remember, Gen Z is looking for a sense of authenticity in the brands they use. They’re looking for a personal touch, and they’re not looking for perfection. Part of the reason for this is that using a hand-crafted
Using hand-drawn designs or lettering on your menus lets your patrons know that you spent some time on it, that you care about your food and take pride in your restaurant.
Millennials and Gen-Z alike want to make a contribution to this world. And anything you can do to show you care about the environment and your local community will help diners meet that need.
Reflect this in your menu by creating a green menu. Use recycled paper and soy ink. Then make sure you point out those features somewhere on your menu.
3. Playful, Personal Touches
Finally, don’t be afraid to show your personality through your menu. It will make you stand out and add to the sense of authenticity so many patrons are looking for now.
Here are some ideas:
Some restaurants now market themselves through playlists on platforms like Spotify. They’ll include their playlist as an insert with their menu.
Add tidbits of trivia about the food or its country of origin. It will add interest to your offerings and make people linger a little more on your menu.
Quirky Menu Presentation
Nowadays, restaurants are thinking beyond paper and lamination. Menus are attached to clipboards, written on slate tablets or even printed on a postcard. Come up with a unique way to present your menu. As long as it sticks with the theme of your restaurant, it could make a lasting impression on guests.
When creating the marketing strategy for your restaurant, don’t forget that your menu is the keystone. Using creative and strategic menu design can increase your profitability and turn a new customer into a repeat diner.