What Restaurant Owners Should Consider When Designing and Printing Menus

Beata Grace Beatty

Beata is a Florida-based freelance writer. When she’s not researching and pitching story ideas, she’s reading, walking on the beach, fiddling with home projects, and keeping up with her two daughters.

Like other components of your brand and marketing plan, creating a menu is essential. Experts say it’s a little art and a little science.

Two women praising the menu design at a new restaurant

Layout and style.

Graphic designers recommend using white space, giving visual direction with graphics, removing the $ (dollar) symbol, and carefully using pictures or descriptive words. Menu design experts recommend the golden triangle because people naturally scan from the middle of the menu to the top right and then top left.

Don’t forget to include information or symbols for special customer preferences such as locally-sourced ingredients and vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or sugar-free options. Research also indicates that customers want to know the nutritional value of your food. Some restaurants clearly mark calories, fat content, and carbs. Take a look at these aesthetically-pleasing menus for inspiration. 

Printing or displaying.

Depending on your food-industry concept brick and mortar restaurant, bar, or food truck professionals recommend specific guidelines when printing or displaying your menu. Relevant considerations include the size of the menu which differs depending on the concept or meals served, the number of menus you need to print, or whether you need additional take-out menus.

Showcase your menu design online.

Once you have designed the menu, you should create a digital version that you can use online. Digital menus that are easy to navigate are especially important if you offer delivery or take-out service. Avoid PDFs. You’ll also want to create a mobile-device friendly menu as increasing numbers of customers from the Gen Z and Millenial demographics rely on their phones to look through menus and order food.

Listen to the expert.

Our local expert, Katherine Humphreys, MFA, digital artist, animator, and educator currently teaching at Eckerd College, St Petersburg College, and Purdue University offers some concrete menu design advice.

How deeply is a menu tied to the brand?

“The menu should work hand in hand with the brand. The mission of the business should be repeated consistently throughout every aspect of company branding. The logo, type, and color scheme should be considered in everything from the front door to the walls to the menus. Consistent branding is the best way to develop recognition and brand loyalty.”

How detailed or simple should a menu be?

“A menu should be easy to read, first and foremost. Too much information – both graphically and content-wise – can overwhelm the viewer and send the message that the company is not organized. That is not to say you can’t have a long menu, just keep in mind the ease of reading and of course, your company mission.

Another aspect to consider is the latest trend of menu engineering. In short, on what do you want the customers to really focus on?”

Is there only one way to create a menu?

“There is no one way to create a menu. The only consideration is the audience. Is your crowd the older set? If so, consider a menu with larger type and color contrast. Are you looking to appeal to a college crowd? Maybe a hand-drawn, cartoon-based menu would work with this age group. What if you want to attract the foodie crowd? This is an audience that is in search of something different. For them, you may want to experiment with unusual printing techniques on wood, acrylic, or metal.”

What are your thoughts on food truck menus or hand-painted wall menus?

“Food trucks’ menus are basically posters. You are designing something for people on the go, people who might not be sitting down or have a lot of time to peruse a delicately crafted menu. Keep your food truck menu fairly simple, organized, and easy to read.

The same goes for hand-printed wall menus. However, typically those work in conjunction with sit-down menus. The only consideration is, is there a reason to have a hand-printed menu on the wall; does it tie in with your branding? Is the handwriting sophisticated, or does it have a country feel? Why are you using it? Always keep the audience in mind.”

Ultimately, customers look to the menu to learn about your food and your business. A plain menu may accomplish the bare minimum, but a great, unique menu design can increase sales.

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