How your restaurant menu plays a part in the restaurant experience
Think about the last time you went out for dinner. Were you impressed by the menu? Was it well-designed with compelling titles and descriptions? Did it make it easy to find what you wanted?
Whether you know it or not, effective menu design sends signals to customers about your brand’s personality, the quality of your restaurant, and your service. An intentionally-designed menu assures your customer that they’re in good hands.
Fortunately for you, this perception is entirely within your control. Here are six questions to ask yourself when designing a menu:
- Who is your target audience?
- Which dishes, drinks, or desserts are they primarily interested in?
- Which items are the most popular and the most profitable for you?
- How will the menu’s structure and design affect the guest’s experience?
- Does the menu highlight your establishment’s niche?
- Is the menu up to date with current food and pricing trends?
In this post, we’ll touch on problems associated with menu design and share a few ways to improve yours.
4 common problems with most restaurant menus
Most restaurants position their menu items incorrectly, overwhelm their customers, use confusing terms, and don’t update their menus regularly.
- Item positioning: Correct item placement drives profits, so the most popular and profitable foods should be highly visible to customers. Use visuals and text to draw attention to these delectable items.
- Too many choices: Offering too many options may require more equipment, more staff members, and more training. You may also not use your ingredients often enough, and they may spoil in storage. Trying to solve that problem with canned and preserved products results in higher costs and a less than optimal flavor in certain dishes.
- Outdated menus: Food prices, trends, and tastes change regularly. Alternating menus in line with seasonal changes and themes allow you to create in-demand menu items. However, you may need to continuously re-educate employees on every new menu, costing you money and time.
- Confusing terminology: As chefs, we often want things to sound exotic but don’t realize how that might affect the customer experience. Unknown culinary terms may make people feel uneasy and revert to familiar dishes, which may cost you sales. If they can’t understand the ingredients, they might worry that it won’t be as tasty, easy on their digestive systems, or good enough value for money.
7 ways to improve your restaurant menu:
Tip #1 – Cater to special dietary needs
Veganism, keto, and gluten-free diets are among the most popular dietary preferences today. To set yourself apart as an establishment, include these dietary preferences in your menu or focus on one and make that your niche. Here are nine dietary needs you can cater for:
- Sugar-free, for those watching their blood glucose levels
- Dairy-free, for lactose intolerant diners
- Wheat free
- Nut-free, for those with nut allergens like peanuts, almonds, etc.
- Fat-free, for those concerned about high cholesterol
Use markers or icons on your menu to mark these special dietary options and make it easy for customers to scan and select items quickly.
Tip #2 – Offer special deals
You might have seen specials at your favorite food or drinks joint such as “Ladies get a free cocktail with every meal purchased” or “Buy 1 Get One Free.” Creating specials and loyalty programs allows your staff to experiment with new, temporary offerings and drive more sales.
Tip #3 – Price for profit
Food ingredients and service costs fluctuate, and it’s good practice to adjust your menu prices accordingly. After all, you need to charge enough to make a profit. Review your prices every six to twelve months to ensure you’re making enough money from each dish to cover the cost of ingredients, breakage, food spoilage, salaries, and inflation.
Tip #4 – Add visuals (photos and illustrations)
Ever heard of the phrase “You eat with your eyes”? It’s true. Visuals help connect your customers to their cravings. Add tasteful visuals to your menus to make the item selection process more enjoyable.
Tip #5 – Create digital menus
Digital menus are easier on your budget, more easily updated, and can be accessed by anyone, anywhere. Publishing your menu to your website and social media accounts allows you to reach more diners, snag more reservations, and make venue comparisons easier for your customers.
Bowl’d, an upmarket restaurant in northern Johannesburg, uses QR-based menus, allowing clients to access menu information through their mobile devices.
Once you’ve set up your website, add your menu to Google MyBusiness so customers can browse your offerings within Search. To design a digital menu, head over to Canva to grab a restaurant menu template or hire a professional designer to do it for you.
Tip #6 – Keep your menu simple
Consider your chefs’ skills, venue size, and available equipment. Are you able to deliver everything on your menu without straining your resources? If not, there are ways to offer classic dishes with twists that delight your customers and save you valuable resources.
Take the basic chicken pesto pasta, for example. You can offer it in its classic form, served with tagliatelle, or switch it up into a gnocchi dish. Neither option will strain your kitchen resources too much.
Focusing on old favorites and adding unique twists is the sweet spot. Review your menu and remove any unnecessarily complicated, unpopular, or unprofitable dishes.
Tip #7: Label your menu options for easier skimming
Menu labeling helps guests know what is in their meals. You can indicate the number of calories in a dish, a specific diet (e.g., ‘V’ for vegetarian), or a food allergen using icons and other markers.
How to structure your menu: an example from Jackson’s Eatery
I’ve seen some great menus in my time, and it might be helpful to deconstruct an existing one to help you better understand good menu design.
Take Jackson’s Real Food Market and Eatery, for example. Their menu encompasses all the above tips in a compelling, easy-to-read way.
Here’s what I like about their menu:
- The combination of fonts, colors, visuals, and layout gives the menu a “garden” theme, and green signifies freshness. The average consumer will expect their menu to be centered around health, wellness, and freshness, and the listed items deliver on that promise.
- No currency symbols have been used on the menu. This is a psychological tactic to minimize the emphasis on food cost.
- Each menu item includes a description of the meal and dietary information.
- Items are arranged in logical groups, making it easier for guests to search for meals. Boxes are used to draw attention to each category.
- Prices are rounded up and don’t end with 99c or 95c. Higher profit margin items are placed in the last three positions of each section.
- White space separates sections around dishes, ensuring that the menu doesn’t feel overcrowded.
- Their menu offers variety, which is the best way to ensure that customers don’t get bored from eating the same dishes.
- Plant-based eating is trending right now, and Jackson’s uses that to its advantage with a plant-focused menu.
Design a better menu today
Menus with too many items, lousy wording, bad pictures, or a poor design can ruin the eater’s experience and put undue pressure on your kitchen staff. The tips in this post will help you design a beautiful, profitable menu that delights customers every time.
Need menu and recipe development services? At Good Food Studio, we help establishment owners build profitable menus that keep guests coming back. Contact us today for a consultation.
In health and happiness,
Chef Lerato Mokonyane has worked for some of South Africa's best-known brands such as McCain, Topo Chico, Eskort, and Sutherland Wines. She's passionate about recipe development, food photography, and everyday nutrition.