It takes a lot to run a successful restaurant. As a restaurant owner or manager, you have to ensure you have enticing menu items, quality ingredients, a competent staff, and great business savvy.
However, one thing that is often forgotten is the actual design and layout of your menu. How you present your appetizers, dishes, and drinks are just as important as the ingredients you choose to create them.
So what makes a good menu layout great, and how can you make your restaurant menu stand out? Let’s take a closer look at what your menu can do for you, and see how other restauraunts are using creative menu design techniques to highlight their items.
Your Menu as a Branding Tool
A number of years ago, I worked in the marketing department of a shopping center. We used to say, “Our job starts when the customer is in the parking lot.” Even the presentation of the shopping center garage was part of our marketing efforts and the overall customer experience.
Your menu is no different. When your customer sits down and opens the menu in front of them, that menu should look and feel like an extension of your restaurant. The colors, fonts, imagery, and texture should remind your customers of where they are and what they can expect.
Take a look at this menu by Shoreline, a breakfast and lunch full service restaurant in Mill Valley, CA. Notice that the color scheme of the menu is consistent with other printed items in the restaurant; they also use the same color as their mugs, and the logo matches the logo on their apparel. In addition to showing the customer what they can expect, the menu also ties the restaurant together, creating one seamless brand that is both memorable and clean. Shoreline also uses the same color palette on their chalkboard menu, supporting their brand identity and cementing a consistent experience.
Menu Item Placement
Branding and color palette aside, where your items are placed on the menu can be a strategic decision. This is particularly apparent in Sésame’s menu, an Asian-inspired multi-location restaurant based in Montreal, Quebec. The most prominent features of each page are undoubtedly the items that draw in the most customers - dumplings in this case. Use contrast with either color or shapes to call out your most popular or profitable menu items, or those that can bring in more revenue that may be overlooked by your customers.
Sésame does a great job of keeping the dumpling section simple while making a point to call out popular items. The dumpling section has a short horizontal listing of items (as opposed to the vertical listing for the rest of their items), further separating this section from the rest of the menu. If you have menu items that you know bring in revenue more than others, find a way to separate them from the rest of your items, and put them front and center so they're easy to find.
Imagery vs. Text
It's easy to want to cover your menu with beautiful, vibrant images of your offerings, but be cautious. Depending on your printing budget, imagery can make your menu more expensive, (both in printing costs, and number of pages). If you do choose to use imagery, be sure that it supports the text on your page and doesn't compete with it. A great example of a good use of imagery comes from Be Leaf, a build-your-own-salad restaurant in Chicago, IL.
The imagery they use are the raw ingredients they offer for their salads, and they support the associated text in a clean and clear way. The use of light line work and text help the images stand out on the white background. If the ingredients that your restaurant uses are a big draw to your location, this is a fantastic way to highlight them.
What Does Your Menu Layout Like?
Much like other types of creative work, there isn't one correct way to design a menu. Look at your location, what you serve, and the feeling you want to convey, and isolate what sets you apart from your competition. Highlight those differences through creative ways like contrast, imagery, and color to draw your customer's eye to where you want it to land.
If you're looking for inspiration, I highly recommend checking out The Art of the Menu to see how restaurants of all types design their menus to fit their location, and keep customers coming back. If you want to get started on your own menu, or your menu needs a refresh, check out our article How to Make a Restaurant Menu from Scratch: 10 Steps.
What does your menu layout look like? Share in the comments below!