Whether you are looking to spice up a bland design or creating an entirely new menu, a few simple guidelines can help ensure that your menu looks great and increases sales. A restaurant menu is more than just a way to present a list of dishes — it is an essential branding tool that sets the tone for the entire dining experience.
Simple is always the safer choice when it comes to typography, color and graphics for print design. Choose a clean, easy to read serif or sans-serif font for the majority of the menu, and save the script and specialty fonts for select titles. Incorporating accents of color and graphics are an excellent way to keep a menu from appearing boring, though the style of restaurant should be considered in how much is too much. Photos of select dishes can be helpful for casual and family-style restaurants or foreign dishes for expedited ordering and to avoid confusion. However, higher-end establishments should consider allowing well-written descriptions to paint a picture for diners.
Consistency is key to brand image; using the same logo, colors, typography and overall style in all products relate to your restaurant creates memorability. Every branded item should be consistent and recognizable, from carry-out bags to social media to the menu.
It’s easy for restaurateurs to get carried away when they are passionate about the story behind a dish; although you could fill a page with the 100 year history of Grandma Tortellini’s world-famous ravioli recipe, the primary purpose of a menu is to inform customers of what they are eating. Use one or two sentences to summarize the dish’s history to add interest and character to the menu, or keep the description simple and allow your waitstaff to describe the interesting details to diners. If you have a truly interesting and relevant story worthy of precious menu space, add a small “blurb” box near the item on the menu that allows diners the choice to read more details separately from the short description. Another option is to go for the classic choice and include restaurant history on the back of the menu.
Go ahead — judge a menu by it’s cover. Diners certainly do, so don’t miss the opportunity to create a memorable menu that expresses the unique style of your restaurant. Invest in custom-engraved wood or embossed leather covers to convey a high-class feel. Or go for something completely different; print the menu on the table or wine bottle, or forgo the printed menu altogether. Be modern and go completely digital by giving diners a tablet, where they can click on a drink or dish for images, videos, stories from the chef and more. Creativity will pay for itself when customers post images of your cool new menu on social media, promoting your restaurant for free. In fact, there are entire blogs, Pinterest groups and other social media devoted to menu design (see Art of the Menu blog and Restaurant Menu Design).
The traditional clear plastic sleeve for menus is still a great option for casual bars, family-style restaurants and spill-prone areas, but it doesn’t have to be boring inside. There is still plenty of room for creativity with the layout and graphics, and it is easy to change out pages when you add a new dish.
Although finding typo’s in the menu is an amusing pastime for some diners, it might appear careless or unprofessional. Diners might repost these errors on social media, and no restaurant wants to be famous for serving “pootato soup.” Personally proof-read the entire menu for spelling mistakes and pricing errors, then have your chef make sure that all dish descriptions and ingredients are correct. Re-printing a menu is very expensive, so take the extra time to check everything. Stay current with dietary concerns by notating gluten-free, low-calorie, vegan and paleo-friendly dishes. Finally, it is absolutely essential to protect your restaurant’s reputation and diner’s health by notating any allergens and risks from raw or rare meats.