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7 Menu Design Secrets for Restaurant Owners

Exploring how restaurant owners can use 7 menu design secrets to create effective menus that increase revenue and draw in customers.

Menu design is one of a restaurant’s best marketing tools.

Effective menu design helps restaurants:

  • Entice new customers
  • Highlight high-profit items
  • Boost ordering
  • Encourage customers to try new items

At its core, menu design is equal parts psychology, marketing, and branding. But, designing the perfect menu is not easy. Even worse? Common menu design mistakes can sink your business

So, how can you make your menu design really work for your restaurant? By trying out these 7 menu design secrets, created and tested by pros.

Today, we’ll talk about 7 menu design secrets, including:

  • Highlight popular items
  • Use mouthwatering food photography
  • Skip the dollar signs
  • Avoid columns
  • Shorten descriptions
  • Work the most expensive item 
  • Move desserts

Highlight popular items

To begin, an effective menu design always highlights your restaurant’s most popular items

While it might seem unnecessary to showcase high-selling items, these meals are the anchors of your menu. Customers will return again and again to order popular items, so give these items a chance to shine!

Pro tip: The upper right-hand corner of a menu is the first place a customer’s eye goes. Use this menu hot spot to market your most popular and high-profit items.

Other creative ways to show off popular items:

  • Boxes 
  • Borders 
  • Illustrations
  • Popout boxes with descriptions
  • Photography

Use food photography 

Appealing food photography is key to effective menu design. Tempting food photography shows off menu items and can inspire a loyal customer to try something new.

In fact, the inclusion of a great-looking picture alongside a food item increases sales by 30%, according to Rapp

“You respond to the image on the display like you would respond to a plate in front of you,” Brian Mennecke, an associate professor of information systems, told MentalFloss. “If you’re hungry you respond by saying, ‘I’ll have what’s in that picture.’”

New to food photography? Check out our best tips and tricks for amazing food photography as a restaurant owner in this post.

Ditch the dollar sign

Menu design secret # 3 – avoid using the dollar sign. 

A study by the Culinary Institute of America found that if a dollar sign is used in a menu item’s price, diners are more likely to pick cheaper options. 

Another best practice to remember around pricing? Be sure to keep the price in the same font size and color as the item description. This way, the item price will be “hidden in plain sight” and attract less attention. 

Avoid columns

Additionally, another top menu design secret is to steer clear of columns. If menu prices are listed in a column, guests will scan up and down to compare and look for the cheaper items. 

“According to Brandon O’Dell, one of the consultants Poundstone quotes in Priceless, it’s a big mistake to list prices in a straight column. “Customers will go down and choose from the cheapest items,” he says. Consultant Gregg Rapp tells clients to “omit dollar signs, decimal points, and cents … It’s not that customers can’t check prices, but most will follow whatever subtle cues are provided,” according to New York Magazine.

Instead, keep the item price a few spaces away from an item description.

Shorten descriptions

Another effective menu design secret? Write shorter descriptions.

When every item has multiple lines of description, customers will become overwhelmed and order their standard.  Instead, use shorter descriptions that are easy to read and comprehend.

Make sure menu descriptions are always:

  • Enticing
  • To the point
  • Spotlight special ingredients or styles

Or, consider only writing descriptions for your most popular, unique, or signature items. This will signal to customers that certain meals or items are extra special and help increase orders.

Use expensive items to your advantage

Here’s another menu design secret: put higher-profit items by your restaurant’s most expensive offering.

Every restaurant has a top-priced dish. Most customers will avoid ordering the most expensive menu item, but will inevitably look at the expensive dish’s description and price

Use the spaces around your restaurant’s most expensive item to show off other high-profit items. By doing so, these high profit meals will get the most eyeballs. Plus, the lower cost items will seem like a bargain.

Move desserts

Finally, be sure to put desserts on their own menu. If a delicious dessert catches the eye of a guest, they may skip an appetizer, soup, or salad to compensate for a sweet later on. 

But, the ideal situation for a restaurant owner is the diner who chooses a starter, a main dish, and a dessert. 

Be sure to put the deserts in their own separate section. Or, offer an entirely separate dessert menu, complete with coffee, tea, or after dinner drinks.

Tweaking along the way

Menu design is a constantly evolving process. As your restaurant tests out new menu design ideas, keep track of what works. Great menu design is key to more customers, more profit, and long term success.