Whenever I go out to eat, the first thing I do is grab the menu and analyze the design and layout. I can't help myself, it's a designer-thing.
So, when it comes to restaurant or cafe menu design, did you know there are strategies that take place behind the scenes? These help make the menu to not only look good and be inline with the brand, but to also be legible and navigate easily - for best profitability. Plus, even help sell certain items like specialty drinks or signature dishes with a designed focus.
If your boutique restaurant or cafe doesn't have the budget for a design professional, I've put together some helpful tips & tricks for you! Because I care enough to want your business to thrive. 🙂
1. Size is Everything. The best menu size is 9x12, it's easy to hold and leaves plenty of room for the best composition. However, it would be wise to flush out the entire menu before you determine the size. Otherwise you will have to work backwards to try and cram everything in. I've had to do that for a few clients, and I would not recommend that approach.
Also, you should take into consideration the size of the tables or counter space, the ease of handling the menu with customers and staff, where the menus will be stored, and lastly, leave enough room on the menu for what I call breathing space [aka white space or negative space].
2. Organize the Content. Figure out what categories you'll have for your menu items, like appetizers, sandwiches, entrées, drinks, desserts etc, and how much space they will require. The general rule of thumb is no more than 7 dishes per category (5 is best). List the most-profitable dishes first, or highlight them in some manner. Then design a layout that is well-structured and easy to read – no need to be overly creative - people just want to see what they want to eat or drink. Leave the creativity for the cover or empty spaces.
3. Go with the Flow. This is probably the most important thing to do for highest profitability. Menu items should not only appear in distinct categories, but also in the order that people tend to eat their meals [like appetizers, then entrées, then dessert]. However, you'll want to place your highest-profitable items, like signature dishes or specialty drinks, in the spot where the eye goes first – which is typically at the top, or top right-hand corner.
People read menus differently than they would a book: they go to the top right first, then over to the left, then down, then all the way over to the right, and up to the middle. Make sure to give a visual focus to those sweet-spot items too.
These tips alone can help make a significant impact on your bottom line because consumers tend to buy what they see first.
4. Hierarchy & Legibility of Typography. The size and font style of type greatly help the reader quickly know what is what. The category for the items should be the largest and/or boldest font, and if possible, make it a different color than the menu item name and description.
The menu item names should come 2nd in the hierarchy. Typically it’s in all uppercase or bold upper and lower case to bring attention to it, but it should be smaller in size than the category name.
The item description comes last – the recommended point size for that is 12 point type (9 point is the minimum), using upper and lower case letters, as this is easiest for the eye to read. You don’t need to be creative here with the description copy, just list the ingredients starting from the main one down to seasonings or garnishes. If you have the room and a great copywriter, go for it!
The price point can be placed either after the menu item name or menu item description, but not line-listed to the right - otherwise customers will focus on the price point rather than the food. Keep in mind the lighting inside the restaurant and leave enough contrast between the ink and the paper color.
5. Design for the Brand. Your menu is part of your brand identity. You'll need a design that reflects the ambience and culture of the restaurant/cafe, and also that represents what your brand stands for. It doesn't have to be elaborate, just consistent with your brand identity.
Make sure you include your logo, contact info [people like to take menus home], and use similar colors, font styles and design elements that are part of the brand identity.
PS: Whatever you do for the menu, make sure to implement that design for any table toppers, flyers, signage etc. Your website also needs to be in sync with your restaurant/cafe branding - but that's another ballgame. Having mixed graphics and messaging could potentially confuse your customers about your brand identity.
6. Proof, Proof, and Proof again. Before you go to press, have several sets of eyes read through the menu. You'd be amazed at how many typos get missed no matter how many times you look at it.
7. Print it! If you are printing the menus in house, make sure you leave a margin of 3/8" all around the edges so nothing gets cropped off. Use the heaviest stock you can for your printer – it needs to last through the handling of many all day long, every day, for as long as the menu is current. If you don't print the menus in house, work with a reputable, local printer who can take care all your printing needs and give you the best advice for paper stock, coatings, lamination, folds, die-cuts etc. They are the experts.
I don’t claim to be The Menu Expert. But I have been designing menus since 2013, and my layout design experience [for publications, brochures and other collateral] goes way back to my ad agency days where I started my career many moons ago.
When I first started designing menus as a solo-creative, my local printer, Neyenesch gave me a Menu Design paper sample/guide from Neenah Papers that helped me tremendously, and then my experience over the years refined my skills and knowledge.
The restaurants I have designed menus for include [and for some it's reoccurring as they update seasonly]: Plow & Harvest - a new, farm-to-table restaurant concept in Canada that, sadly, lasted only several months; the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage - for their main restaurant State Fare and around the resort; a new restaurant I designed branding and menus for in Hollywood, called Spoonfed - who just celebrated their one-year anniversary; and recently I redesigned menus for the Fish District, a local franchise who needed my help to create a visually-improved menu.