How to Properly Design a Restaurant Menu


Tacky restaurant menus beware, more and more restaurant owners are realizing the importance of a properly designed restaurant menu. How many of us have gone to a kick-ass restaurant with great decor only to be let down by a subpar menu filled with clip art and stock images? Well, it seems that most new restaurant owners are revolting against this horrific trend, and I will show you what they are finally realizing.


Ah yes, if only it were so easy right? Well guess what, it is! All it takes is the right sales person – your menu! Most restaurant owners put all of their time, effort, and money into making their decor stand out and making sure their food tastes just right. Whats the point if your number one sales person is an outdated mess with coffee stains? Customers will be confused and end up ordering what they don’t really want, probably the week old tuna that isn’t selling. I bet they wont be returning.

What the owners don’t seem to realize is that the menu is the ONLY thing in your restaurant that is guaranteed to be read by your customers, so you should be taking advantage of that! People are there for the food and drinks first, not the decor. So it helps that the entire restaurant and branding is cohesive, don’t make the menu an afterthought. Once you realize this, you can turn your menu into a marketing tool as well as a sales predictor.


So how does a well designed menu make you money? Well, that boils down to something called “menu psychology”, which was written about in The Wall Street Journal. It says that if you highlight your most successful dishes, then they will sell at a higher volume. You can learn more by reading about it in this NY Times article. Basically, you can tell your indecisive customers what to buy. This works just like a display in a store, you put your best items out for all to see. This works to your advantage in multiple ways. First, you can increase check averages and sell more items. Second, you can get rid of your least selling dishes, and put that money into buying more of the highlighted dishes. No more throwing out old produce because you don’t know how much to buy!


Dave Pavesic, who has a PH. D btw, has given this subject matter a lot of time and research. He says that customers view a menu for an average of 109 seconds. This is the average time a customer will look at your menu and decide the fate of your restaurant. In that time, you have to advertise and clinch the sale. Now ask yourself, is your menu designed for this type of sales approach? A well designed menu is crucial for making sure it gets the sale. An easy to read menu that features highlighted entrees will guarantee that your customers will make the right choice, instead of just settling on something they don’t want. It will also increase the time the person will look at the menu, which will increase the likelihood of them ordering even more food. Think of it like this, would you rather look at a Ferrari or a Fiat? I bet you will be looking at the Ferrari a lot longer, and which one are you more likely to talk about with friends?



You cant just throw together a menu with no thought behind it, even if it follows the menu psychology. It needs to be designed around your restaurant, it should all be cohesive. Does your restaurant have a sports bar niche? Well, then so should your menu. Is your restaurant gourmet? Then fancy up that menu!  It shouldn’t be random, every design decision should have reason behind it.

Want to know another way to get people to notice your menu items? The design world calls them “eye magnets”. If you put certain things on your menu that pops, then the customers eyes will be guided to them. Many restaurants use pictures of their highlighted menu items as their eye magnets. Mmmm looks good right? This only works if you are using images of your actual food, skip the stock images, get a photographer. Most people can tell when you cheap out on the images, especially when the photo is a different restaurant.

The positioning of menu items is also a science, but when the design works around the placement, you can accentuate your items. The average person looks at the middle of your menu first, then top right, bottom right, top left, then bottom left. You can use this to your advantage by placing the important highlighted items in certain locations that are appropriate.

Inside layout
This is the inside of a tri fold menu that I am currently working on. I used the menu psychology technique to highlight their important items. I also used eye magnets to attract the customers eyes to the food. Also, the aesthetics of the restaurant is reflected in the design.


Your restaurants menu is the most important piece of marketing that you could give your customers, it is your business card. Many have neglected this fact, but more and more restaurant owners are realizing this importance. It will literally pay for itself in no time at all. Hopefully after reading this post, you now understand why your competitors restaurant have been getting your customers. Now all you have to do is put in the time and effort that everyone else has, and your customer loyalty, check averages, and profits will all rise! For more in depth info on restaurant psychology click here.


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About Kevin Dyke

I’m a freelance Graphic Designer specializing in putting my clients center stage so they stand out among their competitors. There are a lot of designers out there who see a project as just another project, but I’m not like that. I see it as an opportunity to make the clients business shine.

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