10 ways good menu design can make restaurants more profitable

After Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty mistakenly read out the wrong winner for this year’s Best Picture at the Oscars, graphic designers were quick to come to their defence. According to Vox, a simple change in typography – making the name of the award more visible – could’ve prevented the disaster.

Bad typography and design can result in all sorts of misunderstandings. A menu on which prices don’t line up with the dishes, or on which two items are too close together and are read as one, could result in drama when it comes to paying the bill. Clarity is key. But how can you make your menu sell your food for you? That requires a bit of engineering.

Sophie was angry with Damon, but not angry enough to not eat brunch. Brunch triumphed over all in their worlds. Photo: iStock.

Claire and Damon were fighting, but as Damon suggested they share a chocolate-and-ice-cream stuffed croissant, Claire suddenly remembered how much she loved him. Photo: iStock.

1. Categorise your menu items

Professional menu engineer (yes, such a job exists) Gregg Rapp of Menu Cover Depot recommends costing all dishes and then categorising them into four types of dishes: stars (profitable and popular), plow-horses (low profitability but popular), puzzles (profitable but not popular) and dogs (low profitability and low popularity). Make sure your menu highlights the stars and promotes the puzzles sufficiently. Also consider creating more profitable versions and options of your plow-horses.

2. Highlight recommended items


Use boxes to highlight items you’d like to sell more of. Photo iStock.

A simple box outline can help to draw a customer’s eye to a dish that you’d like to highlight. Bold typography, the colour red, or lots of negative space around an item can also help to do this. Marking something as ‘new’ or ‘recommended’ can also help.

3. But don’t overdo it

The more menu items you highlight, the less impact they’ll each have. Highlight a maximum of one menu item per category.

4. Use descriptive text as a highlighter

While a hamburger might not need a paragraph to describe it, your seafood platter does. Customers want to know what they’re getting for the money. But don’t make the description too long or verbose, or you’ll lose people.

5. Limit the options

The paradox of choice suggests that when we have too many options, we feel anxious. According to Gregg, the perfect number of options per section is seven.

6. Add provenance

Adding ‘locally sourced’, ‘free-range’, or ‘line-caught’ to your menu can help to justify a higher price point. If you’ve gone to the trouble to source great coffee from a local roaster, mention their brand by name.

7. Don’t over-emphasise the prices

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Clear pricing is important, as many customers are cost-conscious, but avoid making the amounts stand out too much. Studies have even shown that guests who receive a menu without a currency symbol (just a numeral) spend significantly more. Nested pricing – putting the price at the end of the description, rather than in a right-aligned column – can also encourage customers to spend more.

8. Make it beautiful

Fonts, colours and layouts can say a lot about your brand. Think carefully about how you can design your menu to make it beautiful in its own right. That way, it might end up featured in your customer’s Instagram pics, too. (Check out some beautiful menus over at Creativebloq.)

9. Replace your menus frequently

When deciding on card stock or plastic, think about menu maintenance, and how often you’ll be able to afford to replace the physical copy. Grubby, peeling or food-splattered menus won’t inspire customers with confidence to order those high-value items.

10. Test it

To see if your new menu design is working, you first need to know how the different dishes performed on the previous menu. Collect this data for a week or two before introducing your new menu. This way, you’ll be able to compare and see if your strategy is working.


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