6 Principles of Effective Menu Design Observed By the Experts

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Just how vital is your restaurant’s menu?

Although a menu presents your customers with a complete list of the food items and beverages that your establishment has to offer, a well-designed menu can perform other critical roles.

First, it is one of your restaurant’s invaluable marketing and communication tools that can do more than emphasize what your establishment serves. More importantly, it should be able to communicate the philosophy your business strives to achieve, as well as a promise of the experience you have to offer.

Second (and as previously stated), your menu is a critical tool that highlights the items that you want to sell, and persuades customers to sample these.

Finally, a menu is a sales tool that should drive customers to buy more.

A job for the experts

Because of the diverse roles that menus play, designing a menu is not a job that should be left to the hands of amateurs. Remember, a menu is more than a list, and you cannot rely solely on your printer or a graphic designer alone to do the job adequately. 

Suffice it to say, you should enlist the help of professionals with the expertise and experience in designing restaurant menus.

Principles of designing an effective menu

Beyond the right fonts and graphics, a well-executed menu design stems from the seamless combination of psychology and marketing. Listed here are six important principles used by experts:

1. Make every second count.

Menus aren’t meant to be read from front to back. On average, a diner will spend a little over 100 seconds to scan a menu. In order to take advantage of that, it is critical to make the menu easier to browse by highlighting certain dishes (especially the most profitable ones) and place these in the right position.

Emphasis is done by using common design elements like pictures, graphics, borders, and colored boxes. However, these elements should be used sparingly. Too much of a good thing can be bad, and overuse of these may defeat the purpose of using these elements.

Placement is also crucial because the average diner has a tendency to look at certain spots first. This is where you should place the items that require an extra push.

2. Consider the psychology of color.

Another critical element that is effectively wielded by expert menu designers is color. Colors influence people subconsciously by tapping their emotions.

Blue and red, for example, help stimulate the appetite. Meanwhile, many people associate green with freshness.

But more than that, the colors can also be used to highlight certain items on your menu by creating a hierarchy of your offerings listed.

3. Go easy on the photos.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, doesn’t it make sense to fill your menu with as many as you possibly can?

No. Although using photos can dramatically increase sales, pairing each offering with a picture can be detrimental. Otherwise, your patrons will think of your establishment as a low-end one.

Use photos sparingly. Ideally, your menu should have just one picture for each category or one for each page.

4. Harness the power of words.

Seasoned menu designers enlist the help of copywriters to write the best possible descriptions for each item on the menu. Why? According to studies, the use of descriptive language can help boost sales by as much as 30 percent.

Additionally, using descriptive terms like “tender,” “traditional,” and “home-cooked” help increase customer satisfaction. The major caveat here is that your dishes should live up to customer expectations.

5. Turn up the appeal of nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion that can be leveraged through thoughtful menu design.

Many successful restaurants use terms like “traditional” and “homemade” to evoke this emotion. Others leverage the chef or owner’s name to humanize certain menu items and give these a friendlier vibe.

Another practice that many restaurants observe is to evoke pleasant family memories with the help of food. That is why you will often see menu items named after a beloved family member, like grandma.

6. Ditch currency symbols.

The last thing that you would want from your diners is to choose the cheapest items off your menu. The easiest way to avoid that is to remove anything that they can associate with money, especially currency symbols.

The human brain is hardwired to think of prices as a type of pain, and printing currency symbols on the menu will only remind them of that.

Many menu designers also avoid lining up prices evenly in a column. Doing so only makes it easier for customers to find the cheapest items. Simply put, the less visible the prices are, the less likely diners will base their choices on the price.

In designing a menu, nothing should be left to chance. Remember, your menu is an invaluable tool that serves multiple functions. As such, it is critical that you enlist the help of experts to craft the best possible version of your menu.


Stuart Harris is the Creative Director at Yellow, a Dubai branding agency, digital partner and advertising company working with progressive businesses to build bold, meaningful brands. He is the perfect guy to confess all your wild ambitions for your business to. Stuart will take all of it in and come back with a strategy that will help set you on the path to achieving your goals.   

Tyler Mathews

Tyler Mathews