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Restaurant Menu Design: The Ultimate Guide

In 2018, US restaurants recorded an impressive $853 billion in sales. This is mainly due to restaurateurs increasing their margins and developing a more strategic restaurant menu design.

The restaurant industry is one of the few industries that are booming. You have an excellent opportunity to capitalize on this.

But there’s also fierce competition with 60,000 new restaurants opening annually in America and 50,000 closing per year—a net gain of 10 000 competitors each year. Click To Tweet

Here, we will cover what is necessary for a successful restaurant menu design.


How to Design a Profitable Restaurant Menu

The menu is the window into your restaurant. You want it to be eye-catching, stand out from the competition, and scale profits. Here’s how to design a good restaurant menu:

restaurant menu design

1. Analyze sales reports

Improving your menu is a significant undertaking, but you can do it. The first step to take when considering changes in the menu is assessing data and making decisions based on that information. Thankfully, point of sale software should have reports available for quick analysis.

For example

Consider this data about your appetizer menu’s monthly sales.

Based on your sales data, you decided to raise the price of butternut squash soup from $5.00 to $5.95 because it is a popular item and should not be affected by that increase in cost.

You also increase the price of your tuna tataki dish by $2 and reduce the lobster cake’s cost by $1.05 to increase its sales by 50%.

Before adjusting the selling prices of these menu items, your total monthly gross sales were $1,249.00. Assuming that they remain consistent in this new price scheme, your average per month will be $1396.25

That’s $147.25 per month and an additional $1,767 in revenue annually!

2. Create a menu matrix

Now that you have the information about your menu items’ profitability, it is time to analyze each item based on its popularity and profit.

We use this chart to determine what is essential for our customers.

What is a menu matrix? 

A menu matrix is a visual aid that can map out the sales volume and gross income of each item on your menu. It helps you get an idea about which things are most important for your establishment’s financials (and it will help with designing menus, but we’ll cover that in Step 5).

How to create a menu matrix

It is essential to plot your menu items based on their popularity and profitability. There are four categories that the food falls into:

  • Cash cows: low-profit, trendy menu items
  • Stars: high-profit, popular menu items
  • Duds: low-profit, low popularity menu items
  • Puzzles: high-profit, everyday popularity menu items

3. Adjust your menu item prices

If you sell a lot of your cash cows, stars, and reworked puzzles but are still running at a loss, then that is what we want to avoid.

When this happens, it’s typically because the prices are set too low to cover COGS and labor costs.

After all the restaurant’s expenses are paid, they only make 2% to 6% profit on each sale.

When it comes to your restaurant’s markup, the type of cuisine you serve is an essential factor. Fine-dining restaurants typically have a lower volume and higher cost per dish than quick service or fast-food chains because they sell fewer dishes at a higher price.

4. Select which dishes to feature

Let’s explore the psychology of decision-making.

One of the most common problems in restaurants is offering too many options on their menu. This can lead to customer indecision and dissatisfaction with choices because so many decisions need to be made (“I wonder if I should have bought the tuna tataki instead?”).

How many menu items should you have?

There is a sweet spot for the number of menu items per category in restaurants. For fast-food and quick-service places, it’s six items each in starters, fish, chicken steaks, and burgers grill pasta vegetarian desserts, while fine dining has seven starters and desserts and ten main courses.

Remember the menu matrix? Feature only stars, cash cows, and puzzles on your menu. Your duds (menu items that are not popular nor profitable) should be removed from the menu entirely. 

5. Choose your menu layout carefully

The layout of your menu is essential to the success of your restaurant. The way you layout food on a page can make customers order different items, and it also helps brand recognition for new diners who haven’t been there before.

Make a great first impression.

The restaurant menu design communicates your brand to guests. Your food should be prepared in a way that is appropriate for your restaurant’s theme and how you want people to feel when they come.

The typical client scans a menu in 109 seconds. This means that your restaurant’s food options need to be enticing enough for them in this time frame, so make sure you have concise descriptions and clean designs on the menu.

Plan out your menu item placement  

To make sure your guests can see all of the menu items, you should use a two-page format. This gives enough space to layout all dishes in an easily scannable way.

When it comes to restaurant menu design, it is essential to think about your sections. You can break them down by entrees and main courses or just desserts and cocktails, limiting clutter on one side of the page while giving more space for another section.

When designing a menu, make sure to use different font sizes and pictures of dishes in your sweet spot. Click To Tweet

Tip: To make the dishes in your sweet spot stand out, even more, try using different font sizes or photos.

Your highest-profit dishes and biggest sellers should be the first things that guests see in your restaurant menu design. This will help drive sales.

Emphasize your Stars and Cash Cows

Using sweet spots to your advantage is one way, but you can also use eye magnets by placing certain dishes in places that will draw attention.

Eye magnets are any attention-grabbing decoration that helps to separate one dish from the rest. This could be a photo, illustration, or anything else.

For example

Restaurants increase their profits by listing the most expensive items on a menu and placing them in prominent areas. This makes it easier for customers to see what they’re looking at.

Image source: 99designs.com

It is essential not to overwhelm your guests when selecting which menu items to use eye magnets for. Limit yourself to one appeal per category and choose only the Star or Cash Cow item from that group.

Use photos and graphic elements wisely.

If you want to increase the volume of photos in your menu, keep them relevant and make sure they work well with what type of restaurant you’re running.

It is common for fast-food restaurants to pair every menu item with a photo, but this practice can adversely affect higher-end establishments. For example, people might think that the restaurant looks cheap or low quality because of all the images.

Graphic illustrations are a great way to use visuals, and Alchemy shows how in this article.

Gregg Rapp from MenuEngineer.com says that using a single photo for each dish on the menu can increase sales by as much as 30%. He suggests carefully considering which words you want to draw more attention to and then taking high-quality photos of those specific items.

When you have a photo of your food, it is essential to use high-quality images. They need to accurately represent the ingredients and colors for customers to get a real sense of order.


How to Write a Restaurant Menu

When designing your menu, you want to make it easy for guests to read and understand each dish. You also wish the words themselves sound appealing in a way that will draw people in.

Your challenge is to use as few words as possible while still getting your point across.

restaurant menu design

1. Write air-tight meal descriptions

When writing descriptions, make sure they are short and easy to understand.

It’s essential to keep your menu brief and avoid overloading it with too much information. Customers want a quick snapshot of what they’re ordering, so make sure you include the necessary ingredients, flavor profile, texture (is it crunchy or smooth?), and origin.

2. Use descriptive adjectives 

Adjectives are a powerful tool, but you should only use them sparingly.

When describing the dishes on your menu, you want to use descriptive words that evoke a sensory experience. You can tell people what they will taste or feel with terms like creamy and zesty.

3. Mention the origins of ingredients

When you’re in charge of writing a menu, it’s important to mention where your ingredients come from. Saying “sun-ripened Italian tomatoes” sounds much more appealing than just saying “tomatoes.”

4. Don’t use dollar signs

When customers see dollar signs, they are more likely to choose the cheapest option.

Guests are more likely to buy something they need or want if the price is not constantly on their faces.

The Center for Hospitality Research study found that people spend more when menus do not include dollar signs.

When it comes to restaurant menu design, you want your guests to pick what they would like based on their preferences rather than price. It can help if the prices are not visible or don’t have dollar signs.

5. Shift attention away from the cost of the dish

If you are going to list your menu items in a scannable column, make sure that the prices for each item are not placed next to one another.

Making prices visible can make customers focus on the price of a dish, which may cause them to choose an inexpensive option. Instead, consider making your pricing less obvious and placing it beneath the description.

6. Use decoys

You can also distract your guests from the price of an item by adding a decoy to the menu.

Place an expensive item near the thing you want your guests to buy. The more expensive it is, the better for sales because people will then choose a cheaper option that they might not have otherwise chosen.


How to Name Your Menu Items

A creative name for your restaurant or bar will make it stand out and attract more customers.

What’s in a name

Dunkin’s “donut holes,” a core menu item for the company, were renamed Munchkins to capitalize on their success. Such catchy menu names reinforce Dunkin through rhyme and communicate that these are tiny donuts.

Restaurants have been using clever menu names to create higher demand for their dishes. They can do this because the stakes are high: The correct name will make or break it.

Name your signature dish.

There are many different types of burgers, but one can’t be confused with the other. 

When it comes to restaurant menu names, you want to ensure that the name reflects both what it is and who you are. Quick-serve restaurants can get away with cheeky names like “Macho Nachos,” but if your establishment has a more upscale feel, then go for something more serious – Balthazar offers their signature salad dish as well as shellfish platter named after themselves.

Use a place as shorthand.

Some places are more appealing than others. For example, California is often associated with fresh and healthy food, which makes it a popular spot for restaurant menus to be named after.

To make food seem more authentic, try giving it an ethnic label. If the word is easy to pronounce—like ‘suppli’ (rice balls) at Polpo in London—it can be a conversation starter between diner and waiter.

Get personal

Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas was so proud of his namesake burger that he twice put it on the menu. Click To Tweet

A personal touch to a restaurant menu can be achieved by naming an entree after your favorite family member. For example, The Betty Pizza might be the perfect dish for someone with that name.

Food and beverage menu item names should have a story behind them, so people are the perfect way to do that. A dish’s description is where you can elaborate on its character while adding mouth-watering details about ingredients for an added touch.

Be authentic

There is a wealth of information available when it comes to restaurant menu design. It would help if you understood what works best for your own independent business and why specific methods work better than others.

Once you figure out the right formula, it’s okay to break some of the rules. If your restaurant is known for having punny drink names and overly-long descriptions on its menu, embrace this quirkiness because social media may help spread the word about these unique items.

The design of your restaurant is a big part of the brand. A hole-in-the-wall sushi place should have fewer menu options because it only has 15 seats, but if you want to be sleek and contemporary, that needs to match what’s on the menu.

Taco Bell’s VP of Insights Lab says that there is a balance between coming up with a name that will make people curious and match the product.

If you’re not sure if your food and beverage names work, it’s always a good idea to gather some friends or customers for focus groups.


How to Create a Cocktail Menu

When you have a liquor license, customers are going to want drinks. The better your cocktail menu is, the more business you will get.

Creating a cocktail menu is not always easy. It requires that you take time to analyze your sales data, create an equation for pricing cocktails based on their profitability and make sure the most popular drinks are featured prominently.

That’s how you make sure that each cocktail is generating profit.

restaurant menu design

1. Analyze cocktail sales reports 

When you want to improve your cocktail menu’s profitability, the first thing that you should do is look at past sales data. Thankfully, this information can be found in a point of sale system and tell what items are most popular.

The number of units sold, not the individual unit profitability, matters when determining a cocktail’s success. Otherwise, if you have one expensive drink and do not sell enough to offset it with cheaper ones, then your business will suffer.

2. Adjust cocktail prices 

You sell high volumes of your cash cows, stars, and reworked puzzles. However, if you are still operating at a loss after doing so, it’s time to cut back on inventory.

When a business has not been profitable, it’s usually because they have set prices that don’t cover their COGS, labor, and overhead expenses.

We suggest selling cocktails at a markup of 100% to 300% to maximize profit.

You might think that is a lot, but with the cost of goods sold (including garnishes, glasses, and labor), commercial space lease fees, and more–than markup will cover it all in addition to paying for your drink ingredients like liquor or juice as well as having enough left over to pay for rent, tools, and even cocktail napkins.

3. Select cocktails to feature on the menu

When you have a bartender on staff, it is essential to take special orders from guests. However, the cocktail menu should be reserved for drinks that are being pushed as your signature cocktails.

Restaurants with limited menus are better because they make ordering easier for customers, and the wait time is shorter.

When customers are faced with too many choices, they feel overwhelmed and less satisfied. This is also known as FOMO.

You can use the menu matrix from before to decide what items you should be serving. Your duds—the less popular or profitable dishes that don’t make a profit—should not appear at all. Feature only your stars, cash cows, and reworked puzzles on your menu.

Chris Tanner, head barman at London hotspot The Vault, considers a few other things when creating his cocktail menu. He wants to offer customers new and exciting drinks with creative names.

Stay true to your restaurant’s personality.

A cocktail menu should be created with the same amount of thought and care as your restaurant’s main menu or interior design.

Know what you want your establishment to represent, commit yourself fully, and execute. Don’t be afraid to have a cocktail menu that stands out from the rest. The drinks can help your restaurant differentiate itself and develop its loyal customer base.

Stay on top of seasons and trends.

To keep customers coming back, you need a special incentive. A great way to do this is by adding seasonal twists on classic cocktails that are familiar and recognized as something new.

The key to keeping your drink menu fresh is adding seasonal elements. When it’s cold outside, try a winter-spiced Negroni. When warmer weather, opt for something light and fruity like a Tom Collins.

Create a strong narrative 

Your menu needs to be structured to be easy for the customer and clear from start to finish.

A pub owner needs to engage their customers with the story they’re trying to tell for them not only to stay but also to understand. Building a menu narrative can be done by selecting ingredients related to season or country of origin. It could also be based on the location your establishment is in.

Make sure that the theme is something your customers can understand, and make it distinct.

For example, The Vault has a distillery under one of London’s oldest whiskey shops. They use their heritage location as inspiration for each of their drinks by elevating classic cocktails with subtle modern twists and ensuring that they align with the bar’s brand, creating an even more cohesive guest experience.

Produce quality over quantity 

Chris believes that pub owners should focus on quality over quantity, resulting in repeat customers. This approach also allows for higher menu prices because the customer comes back to your establishment.

restaurant menu design

The financial crisis has taught us that people are no longer willing to spend frivolously. They want the best experience when they go out for a drink and will often pay more to get it.

Using high-quality ingredients in cocktails can make a big difference in the taste and quality. Use fresh, seasonal fruit and herbs for more intense flavors.

Using high-quality ingredients will increase your COGS per menu item. To adjust, you may need to raise the price of cocktails or reduce portion sizes.


Final Thoughts on Restaurant Menu Design

Poorly priced menus, from the price to what items are featured on them, can be detrimental to your restaurant’s profits.

By analyzing your sales data, creating a menu matrix, and adjusting the prices of food items, you can make an enticing experience for all customers. Click To Tweet

You have the tools, all the information, and you can even use free customizable menu templates. You can be a wizard when it comes to restaurant menu design.