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How to Make a Fine Dining Menu Design With Examples (Free Template)

Grace JidounAuthor

How to Create a Fine Dining Menu

The saying “We eat with our eyes first” was coined by Apicius, an ancient Roman gourmand, and still holds true today. How a fine dining menu is presented and written determines how customers will approach their order and even how they will eat their food. The challenge is that there’s no single quality that makes a great restaurant menu. From prix-fixe to a la carte, there are as many styles as there are ways to cook an egg. On top of that, many chefs often tweak their menus to capitalize on seasonal, high-quality ingredients. According to our research, 31% of all restaurants update their menu monthly, and 24% do it seasonally.

Far from being “one-and-done,” menu design is an ongoing process. To make things easier for you, we’ve gathered worksheets, fine dining menu templates, and the latest research to help elevate the menu at your fine dining establishment.

The Power of Good Restaurant Menu Design

 Countless factors influence the fate of your fine-dining restaurant. And sometimes, it all comes down to timing and luck. But the most successful restauranteurs know that a great menu design is essential — and they’re proactive about development. Menu engineering is a clever way to optimize your profitability and ensure the best dining experience for customers. In short, it’s a win-win. It is the process of evaluating the performance of every menu item in terms of popularity, pricing, and profit. The more popular dishes get better visibility on the menu, and the duds get scrapped. The theory is that customers shouldn’t have to dig for signature dishes with high-profit margins, like that delicious tableside Caesar salad.

Great menu design also includes the appearance of the menu and how well it blends with the overall vibe of your restaurant. For instance, at a farm-to-table restaurant, ravioli is never just ravioli – it’s Bellwether Farms ricotta ravioli. On the other hand, some restaurants might like to stoke mystery by omitting main course details. There is no wrong or right approach – what’s important is that the menu matches the tone of your restaurant and is carefully thought out. 

But before you can even think of menu engineering, your restaurant branding must be on point. Use our branding guide to help you fine-tune your restaurant identity.

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How to Create a Fine Dining Menu

Menu design is so much more than simply listing appetizers, entrees, and desserts. To get the creative wheels turning, explore our fine dining menu templates, and then follow our 10-step guide below to create the perfect menu for your restaurant.

1. Write Out All Menu Items

In business, as in life, it’s important to know thyself. High-level chefs can be wildly creative and spontaneous, often cooking from memory without recipes. Listing all the menu items you want to offer will give you clarity. This is the first step in the process. You can write them down with a pen and paper or use an Excel spreadsheet, but we suggest our handy Google Sheet template for its ease of use. The sheet is collaborative, saves automatically, and easily links to Google Slides if you want to create a presentation. Remember to click File > Make a Copy for your own version.

2. Categorize Menu Items

Categorizing dishes on your menu layout seems straightforward: appetizers at the top and desserts at the bottom. But with increased demand for innovation, sourcing information, and plant-based options, the food doesn’t always fall into neat little categories. These days, there are no rules. 

This is where your menu engineering research comes in; use the results to guide you. Start by highlighting the dishes or the course you want to appear most prominently. A steakhouse will want its premium chops to appear first and sides below. On the other end of the spectrum, many fine dining restaurants have prioritized vegetable-forward dishes as meat prices soar. An upscale bistro with shared plates might organize the menu by wine pairings. You get the gist. Our menu engineering worksheet will help you assess your most popular and profitable items. Remember, you’re in control and can nudge diners into noticing certain dishes first.

3. Set Menu Prices

Across the restaurant world, menu pricing has never been trickier. With ongoing inflation concerns, even chefs catering to wealthy diners must pivot to control food costs. Menu prices — and how they’re portrayed — can make the difference between a one-time customer and a repeat customer. At restaurants, there are many things to consider: portion size, ingredient sourcing, and the amount of protein on the menu, to name a few. 

For people new to the world of fine dining, the process of menu pricing is daunting. How can you price your menu to make the most money while still pleasing discerning guests? To help answer that question, we’ve created a menu engineering course. We unveil the “science” behind menu pricing, showing how financial data and psychology play a role in menu design. 

If you’re an already-established restaurant, you’ll have to be creative and flexible in the face of rising costs. Sudden price jumps risk upsetting loyal customers, so you’ll have to find creative ways to serve the same dishes without losing out on profits. Could you use cheaper locally-sourced mushrooms in that wild mushroom galette without hurting its popularity? Restaurant sales data will give you the necessary insight to make these difficult decisions. 

Sometimes there’s no way around a price increase. But if you raise your filet mignon from $48 to $61, tell your customers why. Most diners are aware of inflation’s impact on restaurants and understand the importance of paying a living wage and providing benefits. A simple explanation on your menu will connect to your customers through empathy. Think of it as an opportunity to communicate your values (fair wages, transparency) and thank customers for their patronage.

4. Create Menu Descriptions

Some menus are sparse and mysterious, tempting you with what they don’t reveal. Others are incredibly wordy, offering brief histories of cuisines that Western audiences may not understand well. There are many ways to approach menu writing, but the most successful have one thing in common: the descriptions come from the heart.

Chefs don’t lack passion. It’s what keeps them going after they work 60 hours in one week. The first step is to “interview” your chef about their creations and write down their responses. What inspired the menu ideas? Where do they source the ingredients for each dish? Are the recipes invented specifically for the restaurant or handed down from their Italian grandma? 

Once you’ve reviewed your notes, write a short description of each dish, and use precise wording that tells the story of the ingredients. “Skillet-roasted asparagus” is more intriguing than plain old asparagus. “Egg mimosa” is a snazzier way of saying “light deviled eggs.” “Whipped potatoes” sounds fancier than “mashed.” If that recipe did indeed come from an Italian grandma, you could put “Sardinian zuppa della nonna.” Also, consider the food's smell, texture, flavor, and color. Descriptive words like “buttery,” “crunchy,” and “crispy” pull people in.

5. Decide on a Menu Color Scheme

Color is a great way to maintain brand consistency. And specific colors evoke different emotions, from excitement to peacefulness (heads up: blue can cause people to lose their appetites).

When choosing a menu color, consider how it will blend with the overall restaurant design and what feelings you want to inspire. At the Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant Mizumi at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort, the menu cover is a bright, bold red to match the striking red accents in the dining room. Red is thought to increase love, passion…and appetite. But the menu's inside is simple black type on white for readability. 

While there are mountains of data on color psychology online, a good place to start is checking out other restaurants’ menus. Art of the Menu is a visual index of menus from around the world, searchable by location or style of cuisine.

Additionally, you can create a mood board of colors and experiment with different color palettes until you land on the right mix. Here are some top color tools used by designers: 

  • Snap a photo of anything you like – from a beach sunset to the décor of a cool dining room — and HueSnap will extract the colors and turn them into a color palette.

  • Adobe Color CC allows you to create your own color schemes and explore what others have done.

  • Coolors is one of the easiest-to-use color scheme generators and boasts many tools to fine-tune your palette.

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Menu Engineering Worksheet

Use this menu engineering worksheet, complete with intricate menu engineering formulas, to determine areas of strength and weakness in your restaurant's menu.

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6. Design Your Restaurant Menu

So much goes into the design process, but with the proper research and a bit of menu engineering, all the pieces will eventually fit together. One route is to hire a professional designer. Share your menu spreadsheet, vision, and color scheme — and let them design away.

Many restaurants design their own menus, adding unique, personal touches that distinguish them from the rest. Chef Nick Weber of Populaire, a modern French bistro in Orange County, California, included artwork on his menu created by his business partner’s niece. The cheeseburger, for instance, is listed next to her sketches of Pulp Fiction actors John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in a nod to the movie’s famous Royale with Cheese scene. “Customers enjoy the tongue-in-cheek humor of our menu, and some people order the burger just for the Pulp Fiction reference,” says Weber.

Software like Microsoft Word, Mircosoft Powerpoint, and Adobe Suite are helpful tools. But before you get started, check out these pro tips on menu design and play around with our menu maker. Here are some best practices to keep in mind while designing:

  • Too many choices can be overwhelming. A super long menu takes time to digest and can slow down orders, ultimately impacting the number of guests you can serve in a night. The upshot? Keep the menu to one or two pages.

  • Stay true to your brand and personality. Populaire takes an inventive approach to French bistro fare, and its irreverent and fun menu perfectly matches the cuisine. Whatever your style, the menu design should align with your brand.

  • Use white space strategically. Studies show that white space improves readability and comprehension. While filling up the space with information to showcase your dish may be tempting, it will actually have the opposite effect.

7. Think about Photos

You may wonder, “Food photos on a fine dining menu?” A picture tells a thousand words. Sometimes describing a dish that is unique and unfamiliar can be so wordy that it clutters up your menu. More often, high-end restaurants will include a photo of the source of culinary inspiration, whether a person or a place. A photo of the person who inspired their favorite chef — a grandparent or relative — will delight diners. Sometimes all it takes is one shot of a beautiful seascape to set the tone for your Mediterranean menu.

But the main reason to have high-quality food photos is for marketing purposes. You’ll need photos for your social media, website, online menu, takeout menu, and press kit. To find a professional photographer, browse freelance marketplaces like Fiverr or Found Artists or ask friends and business associates for referrals. 

8. Choose Menu Fonts, Spacing, and Composition

You’re in the home stretch, but there are a few more details to pin down: fonts, spacing, and composition. With more than 200,000 fonts in existence today, choosing the right one is difficult. Spacing is another tricky area as you need to determine the space between each dish and each course, not to mention the margins. Many restauranteurs hire a menu designer at this point or turn to menu templates to guide them. The time needed for this part of the process varies depending on your menu's complexity and the design elements you want to include. It can take up to a week to complete several iterations or be as quick as a few hours.

If your menu is seasonal or you plan on featuring weekly or daily specials, leave space to add or remove items so you don’t have to start from scratch every time you make a change. 

9. Select the Final Menu Layout

The best way to select your final design is to seek high-quality constructive feedback. Create a few variations of your final draft and show them to trusted friends and business associates. A fresh pair of eyes will not only catch mistakes and omissions but will give you an alternative point of view. Let your stakeholders weigh in as well. Though they may not be chefs, they will have a wealth of knowledge in their respective fields and can provide special insight into pricing and brand image.

10. Proofread and Print Your Menu

After all this work, it’s finally time to print your menus. Before you do, proofread your menu and have a friend or business colleague proofread it again. You don’t want to scrap all your menus over a typo you caught after the fact.

While Staples is a solid option, several companies can print polished menus – even on a budget. 

Expect to pay between $150 – $200 for about 200 8.5” x 11” menus, but the cost can vary depending on the menu style (half-fold, tri-fold, z-fold) and how many menus you need.

How to Make an Online Restaurant Menu

Consistency between the print menu and the online menu is important. It’s a given that most people will research menus and prices online before booking a table at an expensive restaurant. Fine dining is often reserved for special occasions or splurge-worthy date nights. The online menu will give customers a sense of the exciting evening ahead. Even if the meals change weekly or daily, it’s essential to have a recent sample menu on your website for diners to peruse.

Look for online ordering providers that allow you to upload photos. Before the pandemic, ordering take-out from a high-end restaurant was a rare occurrence, but now even Michelin-starred restaurants offer DoorDash and customers like to see what they’re ordering. Many restaurants are setting up their own online ordering systems to avoid hefty commissions and have more control over the take-out experience.

Engineer Your Way to Success

There are menus, and then there are well-designed menus that inspire and excite your customers. Those are the ones that people want to order from again and again. The menu is a direct reflection of the chef’s vision and also your brand image, so it’s worth the time and effort to get it right. Armed with our tools, worksheets, and 10-step guide, we hope the the path will be easy.

Related Menu Ideas

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Fine Dining Menu Templates

Use these fine dining menu templates as a starting point for your menu design or to give your menu a refresh.

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.