a couple looking through an optimized restaurant menu design

Restaurant menu design: tips and tools to help you upgrade your menu

Your restaurant menu is a greeting card, resume, and proof of concept all rolled into one. Even if you have a hostess, your menu is the first chance many diners have to see what you’re all about. The ingredients you use, the dishes you offer, and the colors and fonts you choose affect everything from the vibe of your restaurant to how much money a customer will ultimately spend.

Studies show that a strong menu design can boost profits by as much as 15%. That’s the good news.

The flip side of the coin is that a menu that’s poorly designed can leave customers underwhelmed. That’s why a strong menu is key to your restaurant’s marketing plan. To achieve that tantalizing increase in profitability, you need a menu that’s exciting, enticing, and suitable not only for in-person dining but for use on marketplace apps like Grubhub Marketplace.

Here are our top tips and menu maker tools to help you successfully upgrade your restaurant’s menu design and attract more orders.

1. Analyze your menu items and their performance

The first step toward a more profitable menu is to figure out what needs to stay  and what needs to go. It’s easy to get attached to certain menu items, especially those your back-of-house team loves to prepare or items you yourself love to eat. But this analysis needs to be objective — no personal feelings involved.

  • Remove anything that is out of date, incompatible with the current direction of your menu, and/or doesn’t  appeal to your target demographic
  • Look through online reviews and other forms of customer feedback and remove items are consistently rated low or can’t be made consistently
  • If you’re doing more takeout and delivery business, limit the number of dishes that can’t be packaged for takeout while maintaining quality (i.e., crème brûlée, yogurt parfaits, cheese souffle, etc.)
  • Eliminate options that aren’t popular or cost too much money to prepare. Find out the profit margin of each dish by calculating your cost of goods sold and ditch the items that aren’t generating revenue. 

2. Place items strategically on your menu to avoid clutter

As important as it is to evaluate what you’re putting on your menu, you also need to think about where you’re putting those items. Menu design is part science and part art form. The average diner spends less than two minutes scanning their menu before making a decision. That means you have about 109 seconds to direct their attention where you want it to go.

  • Use design tricks (called “eye magnets”) to subconsciously encourage patrons to choose high-priority items. these tools include borders, shaded or colored boxes, asterisks, photos or illustrations, and bold or specialty fonts.
  • Take advantage of white space. Leaving space for readers to relax their eyes can improve reader comprehension by up to 30%, and increase the likelihood customers will order more items. Pro tip: Use menu maker tools that have optimized templates for you to use for on-premise dining menus. 
  • The top and upper right-hand portion of the menu is prime real estate. Reserve it for your best performing and most profitable items.

3. Use mouthwatering words to amp up your menu descriptions

Which sounds better: a burger and fries or a char-grilled Angus beef burger with aged cheddar and hand-cut Idaho fries?

Your menu descriptions should be concise but descriptive. If that sounds contradictory, just think of maximizing your space. Make every word matter. Longer isn’t necessarily better, but if an adjective or specific name of a product will help sell a menu item, then there’s likely value in including it in your description.

For starters, emphasize “yummy words” that are likely to get customers’ stomachs rumbling. Salads are crispy and fresh, barbecue is sticky-sweet and smoky, and desserts are perfectly flaky with a sinful chocolate drizzle. Consider your demographic, too; if you’re catering to an audience that appreciates locally sourced produce or sustainability, work in related buzzwords.

Here are some examples of descriptions that sell: 

  • Tangy St. Lawrence goat cheese with locally farmed beets and a zesty citrus vinaigrette
  • Pillowy gnocchi in a truffle cream sauce, dusted with aged (2-year) Parmesan
  • Grandma’s Sunday meatballs on a freshly baked roll

4. Follow the best practices of menu psychology

Most menu researchers agree that there’s an art to engineering a menu that drives sales. Diners have a habit of scanning a menu in a particular pattern, starting with the upper right-hand corner. This is why you’ll often find steakhouses displaying their pricey seafood platters here and even diners make use of the “sweet spot” by offering beef short rib benedicts or smoked salmon omelets. If you outline that high-profit item or category with a bold border and use an ornate font you’re even more likely to grab guests’ attention.

Other psychological tricks for restaurant menus include:

  • Avoiding choice overload by limiting menu options to seven items or less per category. Sometimes more is just more, and guests may get overwhelmed and decide to order less (or nothing at all) because they can’t make up their minds.
  • Leading with an expensive item to make every dish that follows seem more reasonably priced.
  • Relying on the power of certain colors to guide guests’ emotions. For instance, red is a stimulating color linked to increased appetite and yellow begs for attention — a combination favored by one of the most successful restaurant franchises on the planet.

5. Rethink the way you determine and write your pricing (hint: no more dollar signs!)

Restaurants of all types and sizes are dropping the dollar sign from their menus, and it’s not just because it looks nice. Diners who look at menu items priced using dollar signs are more likely to make a strong financial association to that item. As a result, they choose cheaper options. Instead, keep pricing simple, using just a numerical value with blank space between the menu description and the price.

Example:

  • Crispy-skin Jidori chicken, herbed spaetzle, sunchoke puree     22

It’s also crucial to be strategic and deliberate about your pricing. The cost of a dish should reflect the ideal food cost percentage of 25-30% (fine dining restaurants typically sit slightly higher at 35%). If a cheeseburger costs you $4 to make, it should cost customers roughly $13 to $16.

If you need to lower your food costs to keep menu prices within reach of your target demographic, try working with your distributors, using seasonal menu ingredients, and tweaking portion sizes.

6. Avoid using PDF menus on your restaurant’s website

Here’s some food for thought:

  • Some 61% of all Google searches originate from a mobile device
  • 90% of consumers say they’ll look up a restaurant online before dining
  • 52% of consumers say that a poor mobile experience will make them less inclined to interact with a company

Using a PDF to display your restaurant’s menu automatically violates best practices of mobile optimization because it forces people to download a file that doesn’t read well on a tiny screen. In other words, it makes it difficult for all those smartphone and tablet users to easily access your menu and place an order. 

Instead, consider offering an online menu, like Grubhub Direct, that’s interactive and made specifically for mobile users. That way customers don’t have to work to find what they want, and they can order directly from you.

7. Include menu photos

The right picture can transform a mystery dish into a new favorite and make comfort food exciting again. That’s why restaurants that use photos in their menus get 70% more online orders and 65% more delivery and takeout sales. 

Food photographers know just how to capture dishes so that they look utterly crave-worthy. You don’t want to overdo the visuals, though, so pick and choose your moments. Save the pictures for items you really want to push or those that might need the extra explanation.

4 Restaurant menu maker tools and resources to help amp up your menu design

Ready to get designing? Here are four affordable menu maker tools that will help you create your next winning restaurant menu:

Online ordering menu maker tool: Grubhub Direct

This branded online ordering solution lets you take commission-free orders from your customers via a customized website that features your logo, photos, and menu.

On-premise dining menu maker tool: Adobe Spark

Create custom menus with Adobe Spark that you can print and use for indoor dining. Adobe Spark is a menu maker that makes it easy to design professional menus that are full of personality.

Additional in-person dining menu maker tool: Canva

Similar to Adobe Spark, Canva has a ton of menu maker templates that you can use for on-premise menus.  Combine your own logos and photos with stock imagery and professional menu templates from Canva to generate masterpieces that look like they took weeks to create, not just a few minutes.

Menu design inspiration: Pinterest

Stuck for inspiration? Visit Pinterest to see what competitors are up to and what’s capturing your customers’ attention.

Menu design is one of the most dynamic and flexible parts of your overall marketing plan. When you join Grubhub, you get access to free menu consulting services to help you optimize your menu for online ordering success as well as a free professional menu photoshoot.

Looking for ways to get your menu to customers? When you join Grubhub for Restaurants you’ll get access to advanced technology that will make it easy for you to create an online menu for your own website! 

Ready to get started? Sign up today!