Restaurant Menu

The Ultimate Guide To Designing The Perfect Restaurant Menu

Restaurant Menu

The menu can make or break a restaurant. That’s why, no matter how much time you invest in designing the menu, it’s worth it. Unfortunately, most restaurant owners/managers aren't aware of where to start. We will solve this problem for you today.

We will provide you with a simple 12-step guideline to help you create the perfect menu for your restaurant. Before that, it is essential to understand the importance of getting the menu right.

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Why is It Important to Get the Restaurant Menu Right?

Women ordering something from their menus

To truly understand how your restaurant menu can serve you well, you must be aware of its impact.

  • The right menu can help your patrons find the right food to order in no time. It improves customer experience, leading to satisfaction and higher revenue.
  • With proper menu engineering, you can influence customers to order food items with the highest margin.
  • The menu design is a powerful opportunity for any restaurant to create an impression in customers' minds. The ROI on proper menu design is undoubtedly much higher than other marketing practices.

How to Create the Perfect Menu for Your Restaurant

Now that you know the importance of having the right menu, it is time to follow the steps below to create one.

Step 1: List the menu items

Listing the menu items

The first step is to list the food items your restaurant offers. In this process, you can use Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel, or even the old-school method of pen and paper. However, Google Sheets is better since you can quickly check spelling and cut-copy-paste whenever needed.

Pro Tip: Batch similar items together while listing them down. For example, list all types of pasta, one below the other. This will make it easy to follow the next step. 

Step 2: Classify the items into categories

The next step is to name the different batches according to the type of items. This is where writing similar items one below another will come in handy. Also, rather than using generic names for the categories, add a few adjectives to personalize the categories themselves.

For example, instead of just writing Pizzas, you can name that category Mouthwatering Pizzas.

In each category, extremely popular items with the highest margin should be kept on top. People are most likely to order the top two items in each section.

Step 3: Decide the prices

Menu prices

Prices are one of the most crucial aspects of a menu. If you're merely revising the prices upwards, you can factor in the increase in your costs and accordingly adjust the prices. 

Here are a few things to consider while deciding the prices if you're drafting a new menu:

  • Target customer profile

Ask yourself, who is your ideal customer?

It can be a large group, couples, or solo diners. Once you determine your target customer profile, it is easy to understand how much they are willing to spend and will help you decide the pricing strategy. 

Pro Tip: If you still need help, check out local competitors' menus online with similar customer profiles.

  • Average cost per meal

If you're planning the menu for a fast food restaurant, you should calculate the cost per meal accordingly. You must factor in drinks, entrees, main course, and dessert. 

Another aspect is the cost of an average meal for a couple or solo diner at your restaurant. Then, you have to try and find out if the average customer in your area is willing to spend that much on a meal or not.

  • Competition

Considering the competition while determining the pricing is a necessity. However, you need to compare your prices with the right competition. 

Note that you cannot compare the pricing strategy of a gourmet restaurant with a fast food restaurant in the vicinity. That is why it’s essential to always compare the pricing with the restaurant offering similar food and dining experience to yours.

  • Fixed costs

Always factor in the fixed cost you have while determining the pricing. The fixed costs include furniture, kitchen appliances, interior design, service, and so on. 

Usually, restaurants and cafes break even in three years. You have to divide the fixed costs over the 36 months and then divide the monthly cost with the average number of patrons you expect in a month. That will help you determine the fixed cost for every patron.

  • Variable costs

 You also need to add the variable costs, like the raw material, utilities, and staff. Since these are paid monthly, it is easy to divide them among the number of customers you are expecting each month.

  • Average table occupation time

How often do you expect to turn around a table? This number will determine the maximum revenue you can make in an evening or an afternoon. 

Now that you know the fixed and variable costs, you can determine the maximum revenue you can make by looking at the turnaround number and price the menu accordingly. This is a time-consuming task, but it is a crucial step.

Step 4: Create descriptions

Customers reading the descriptions on a menu

Not everyone walking through the doors of your restaurant would become a patron. That is why you need to include a single-line description of every dish and mention it below its name in small font.

Be as descriptive as you can by using adjectives to express the menu item's taste, ingredients, fragrance, and appearance.

Step 5: Choose the right color palette for the menu

We all know the menu should be easy for a prospect or customer to read. That is why you need to choose the right color palette.

Instead of experimenting with the color palette, use a site like, which offers pre-created color palettes and allows you to create one on your own.

Step 6: Select the right design

Menu design

When selecting the design for the menu, the contents are just one part of the equation. Without the right design, the menu won't stand out, and the customer won't be able to select the right food items to order.

  • Easy to read

The menu should be designed so that it is easy to read. Customers won't even bother with the menu if it is very complicated.

  • Know the usual customer eye movement

According to the International Journal of Hospitality Management, most customers read the menu as they would read a book. The scan path is from left to right and top to bottom. The readers pay the most attention to items below the category name.

Once you design your menu per scan paths explained above, it can easily influence the readers to order higher-margin items. Also, it becomes easy for the readers to find the right dish to order.

  • Use the currency signs sparingly

According to Cornell University, customers spend more when no currency signs are on the menu, as the word "dollars" or the dollar sign reminds people of the pain of paying. 

Step 7: Add photos appropriately

In one of its articles, the New York Times stated that proper use of images could help you highlight the menu items and thereby increase their sales. However, that doesn't mean you can't use photos sparingly. Here are a few guidelines for introducing photos to your menu:

  • Ensure atheistically pleasing photos

You should only introduce professionally taken photos in your menu. That will help you accentuate the photo and make the reader inclined toward ordering it.

  • Include photos of the highest margin items

Since you can use images sparingly, it is best to include photos of only the items with the highest margin.

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Step 8: Select the right font

Fresh Cocktails Font

Fresh Cocktails Font - Image by Creative Fabrica

The right font makes it easier for the reader to navigate the menu. Apart from that, you can use it to your advantage in various ways:

  • Choose an artistic font that matches your restaurant's theme.
  • By choosing a casual font, you can match it to the vibe of your restaurant.
  • You can convey a subtle message through the menu with the right font and background color.
  • The three main sections of the menu (e.g., the beverages, entrées, and desserts) can have different themed fonts. For example, you can use the Fresh Cocktails Font for the cocktail section. It is designed in such a way that it creates an impression of the drinks being delicious and refreshing.

Considering these factors, it is crucial to choose the font carefully. Any menu designer will ask you to spend hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars on the font you use in the menu, but we have an easy solution. 

Check out these free fonts for commercial use. There’s no need to spend money licensing the fonts. Many are artistic enough to be used in your menu to label the categories.

Step 9: Do not forget the branding

The menu of your restaurant presents you with plenty of branding opportunities. Here are some of the tips you have to follow:

  • Your restaurant logo should be prominently displayed on the menu.
  • The end of the menu should mention your restaurant's website, address, and other associated information.
  • Use the cover page of your menu to brand your restaurant.

Once you utilize these branding opportunities, the customers will recall your restaurant better, leading to more business.

Step 10: Add some CTA to the menu

CTA stands for Call To Action. Most restaurant owners ignore adding CTAs to their menus, but you can increase your restaurant's profit by adding them to the items with the highest margins.

Some examples of CTAs include:

  • Ask your server about it!
  • Order this today to enjoy a delicious meal!
  • Ask the server about today's special!

Step 11: Proofread the draft twice

Whichever software you use for drafting your menus, like Google sheets, Microsoft Excel, Google Docs, or Microsoft Word, it is important to proofread it twice before moving on to the next step.

Even with the best efforts, you're likely to make certain mistakes when drafting the menu. Proofreading will ensure that the mistakes are corrected in the soft copy rather than the hard copy.

Step 12: Get a printout and get real-world feedback.

Getting a handful of copies is better than ordering menus in bulk. Once done, you must get real-world feedback from test customers or a sample audience. It will help you boost the business.

How to Make Your Restaurant Menu More Effective?

Wine with food dish and menu

You can make the menu more engaging for your restaurant's customers by simply acting on these few tips:

Use symbols to your advantage

Using symbols and icons in your menu can make it easier to read. For example, you can denote the spicy dishes using the chilly symbol. Similarly, you can include a star in front of the chef's special or the most popular dish of your restaurant as well.

Once you include such symbols against the popular and high-margin items, the percentage of customers ordering such dishes will increase, leading to better profits.

Avoid making price the USP

Many restaurant owners try to go with the most competitive pricing in the vicinity. However, if you make pricing the unique selling proposition of your restaurant sooner than later, you will lose out. 

In the restaurant industry, the costs keep on increasing. If you always attempt to provide the lowest prices, you will eventually fail since you do not have any other unique selling point.

It is best to make the variety of options your selling points, such as taste or the quality of ingredients. In that case, you can maintain these USPs for years, making it easier to convince your customers to become regulars. 

Use decoy items to your advantage

As per New York Times, adding an inexpensive decoy theme to the top of the menu or the category gives the impression that other items are reasonably priced. Coupling this technique with not using currency signs will make it easy for customers to order more expensive dishes.

Common Restaurant Menu Design Mistakes to Avoid

Woman confused about which food to order in a restaurant

Now that you know the tips to follow, it is essential to understand what mistakes you need to avoid.

No digital menu

A huge mistake in today's digital age is not having a digital menu. Sure enough, most customers might use the physical or the printed menus but not all of them. You can choose from types of digital menus which are:

  • QR menu

You can create a QR menu and keep the QR code on every table. That will help the customers view it on their smartphones.

  • Digital menu board

You can create a large digital menu board that you can install outside your restaurant or kitchen. This helps patrons plan their orders in a better fashion.

  • App menu

You can also create an app for your restaurant and offer an in-app menu to your customers. You can integrate it with a QR code, so the app opens up when scanned.

Ignoring the trends

Repeat business is a necessity for a successful restaurant. However, if you always keep the entire menu the same, it will soon become monotonous for patrons. The best way is to follow trends.

For example, recently, organic ingredients have gained popularity among customers. You can also offer variants of your most popular menu items made with organic ingredients. Additionally, you can introduce a healthy section in your menu.

It is essential to keep track of such trends and adaptive items to satisfy the ever-changing taste of your customers.

Not informing the staff about the menu

Even when you follow all the tips to create the menu, your servers have to handle questions about it. Many people might be unable to select the right menu items and ask your servers to recommend the most popular or delicious menu items. 

The servers and the staff can only do so when they are well trained and informed about the menu items. That is why you cannot skimp on staff training even when you put a lot of effort into designing the menu.

Using difficult descriptions

Many restaurant owners use difficult objectives and complex language to describe a menu item. The problem is that if your patrons can't understand the description or image in the menu after reading it, they won't order the food.

Instead of using complicated language for the menu items, go with the simplest descriptions you can draft.

Not maintaining the menus

The restaurant's menu is one of your first opportunities to make an impression in front of a customer who just walked in. That’s why it should be well-maintained. 

If the menu has stains or is unkept, it showcases your restaurant in a bad light. And if customers have dropped food on it and you cannot remove the stains, replace that menu altogether.

Restaurant Menu FAQ

Bistro with menus on the table

Can you use online printing services for menu printing? If yes, which ones?

Yes, you can use online printing services for menu printing. The best websites to order menus are Vistaprint, Uprinting, and Print Place.

What are the three basic menu pricing styles?

The three basic menu pricing styles include traditional pricing, cost-plus markup, and product cost percentage pricing. We will go into the details of the three pricing models below:

  • Traditional pricing

In this method, you're likely to decide the pricing of menu items depending on your competition; customers perceive the value and your intuition.

  • Cost-plus markup pricing

Using this pricing model, you'll likely calculate the cost and include a markup. For example, if it costs you $5 to make a menu item, you can decide to have a markup of 50% and price the item at $7.50.

  • Product cost percentage pricing

Product cost percentage pricing is the opposite of cost-plus markup. You need to figure out how much should be the cost of the food item as a part of its selling price.

Let's say you decide that the food item cost should be 25% of the selling price. In that case, if you want to sell a menu item for $20, you have to ensure that the item cost is not over $5. If the cost increases, you must adjust the selling price accordingly.

What comes first on a menu?

Usually, appetizers or cocktails come first on the menu, followed by soups, salads, entrées, and desserts.

How many items should you place on a restaurant menu?

Every section in your menu should contain around 5 to 12 items, so you must break it down into highly specific sections. 

For example, instead of just having a section dedicated to fast food, you have to further break it down into pasta, pizzas, burgers, and so on.

What constitutes a good menu?

The characteristics of a good menu include legibility, a clean layout, proper structure, easy-to-read prices, and proper branding.


While designing a restaurant's menu might seem like a Herculean task to many restaurant owners or managers, the guide above makes it a simple process. 

Follow these 12 steps along with the tips and mistakes you need to avoid, and you shouldn't have a problem creating an effective menu for your restaurant. So what are you waiting for? Increase your restaurant’s revenue and satisfy your customers simultaneously!

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