Your restaurant’s menu is a major connection between you and your customers. Created correctly, your menu can be your single most effective marketing tool. But why does having the best restaurant menu design matter?

Good menu design has the potential to increase profits by as much as 15%. This is a significant boost, especially in an industry known for high operating costs and variable profit margins.

How? Great restaurant menus draw attention, excite customers and enhance the dining experience. Whether downloaded online in PDF form, received as part of a mailing campaign or delivered to the table by a waiter, your menu shows your eatery’s personality. It also conveys information about everything from the atmosphere of the restaurant to the quality of the food.

If your menu isn’t doing its job to highlight your best dishes and encourage orders, it’s time to re-design it with your customers – and profits – in mind.

Menu Design Ideas: Professional, Template or DIY?

Printing and design services offer restaurant owners a lot of options the unique needs and goals of menu updates.

Are you redesigning the entire menu, or just changing the existing style? Is the focus shifting to seasonal dishes? Is it time to add new options? Or is the re-design meant to encourage customers to purchase dishes that drive profits, but haven’t been performing well?

DIY online printing is a low-cost option for simple changes or intuitive layout makeovers for which you don’t require third-party design services. Choose a creative menu design template, or upload your own files to edit.

When you’re done, the most basic tools allow you to save your design and download it to print on your own printer or take to a local print shop. Other services offer professional printing on your choice of paper, with upgrades like lamination or stylish matte finish.

If you intend to make routine menu updates, look for a service designed specifically for menu creation instead of general graphic design. Prices may be higher, but you get the benefit of:

  • Higher-quality templates
  • Professional stock photo libraries
  • Separate designs for dine-in and takeout menus
  • Easily adding profit-boosting menu design elements
  • Saving popular food items to use in future designs

Custom design is a third, and often more expensive, option when your menu needs a professional touch.

Design services can cost several hundred dollars and may top $1,000 if you need multiple layouts. However, the end result is worth it if your new menu prompts more sales or larger orders.

You may be able to save a little by hiring a freelance designer instead of a company, but avoid the trap of choosing the cheapest service. Browse portfolios to find designers with high-quality work and styles that match your restaurant’s branding strategy.

The Restaurant Menu Design Tips You Need to Know

No matter which design option you invest in, the end goal is always the same. Your menu should entice customers to order something other than your cheapest or most basic dishes. It should highlight your best offerings, draw attention to popular and high-profit items and work to increase sales of slow movers.

For customers, browsing the menu is part of the overall experience of dining out. Customers enjoy perusing familiar and new options, and exploring food choices adds an element of anticipation. Make the most of these precious moments of engagement with these tips for restaurant menu design inspiration.

The Basics of Effective Menu Design

Every menu has a simple foundation built upon elements customers see before they even begin checking out dishes. Each of these factors sends a message about your restaurant’s style and target demographic:

  • Type, weight and size of paper or other printing medium
  • Color scheme
  • Font choices
  • How dishes are highlighted or promoted

Start your re-design with basics that convey the impression you want customers to get when they first arrive at your establishment.

How to Design a Menu Layout that Catches the Eye

The “Golden Triangle” is a design concept based on the way customers read menus. Most people look at the center first before checking out the top right and left corners.

Place popular dishes or seasonal specials in the center spot, and use the corners to promote appetizers and other starter options. Break up the rest of the menu into logical sections based on the kinds of dishes you offer. Reserve the back for listing the prices of basics like soda, water, coffee and tea; customers rarely turn the menu over when looking for meal options.

Images, Text or Both?

Good typography is such a powerful design tool, many restaurants forego images in favor of text-only menus. Your choice of fonts and font sizes tells customers whether your restaurant is casual and family oriented or upscale and refined. Using different typefaces and larger sizes draws the eye to specific sections or dishes.

Images work best on menus for family restaurants or establishments catering to younger demographics that tend to dine out in groups. Large, bold photographs work well to reach these audiences, but can make a formal restaurant’s menu look tacky. Illustrations are a good alternative to complement text and enhance branding, without adopting an “in-your-face” strategy.

Orderly and User-Friendly

Boxes, columns and sections make special selections stand out and create a logical order for your menu. Place eye-catching headers at the top of boxes, and use an attractive typeface to make column titles stand out. Leave enough space between all elements to avoid crowding and allow customers’ eyes to travel naturally across the page.

But not everything has to be on one menu. It might make sense to place desserts, kid-friendly items or diet-friendly dishes on separate menus to avoid clutter on the main menu.

Sell More with Subtlety

Strangely enough, it seems the simple act of omitting dollar signs on your menu may prompt people to order more than they otherwise would. Putting prices in smaller text can have the same effect, possibly because it highlights the enjoyable elements of each dish, instead of the prices.

Another way to downplay price is to place expensive dishes in prominent spots, surrounding them with high-profit items that cost less and therefore appear more affordable. On the other hand, if your restaurant is known as a bargain spot for great food, making prices prominent could be a smart marketing strategy.

Take Advantage of Branding Opportunities

Your menu serves as one of your greatest opportunities to reinforce your brand image to customers. Every element should reflect the personality of your brand, from the way the menu feels in customers’ hands, to the balance of colors, photos and text. Get feedback on the design from a few people who have never eaten at your restaurant, and make adjustments to ensure you’re conveying the right message.

Fund Your New Menu Project

Bringing together all of the elements of great restaurant menu design can pay off in big ways, but as with many things in business, you have to spend some money before you start getting returns. Cutting corners can mean taking losses instead of seeing better sales and bigger profits.

Creating an engaging, profit-driving menu is only part of taking things to the next level. If you want to double or triple sales at your restaurant, you may need new equipment, an updated interior, or new marketing strategies.

A business loan gives you access to everything you need to make these improvements in your restaurant! You’re free to invest in a top-notch designer, and get everything else you need to grow your restaurant.

National Business Capital offers a revolving line of credit for restaurants that have been in business for three months or more and bring in at least $120,000 a year in sales. With available credit amounts ranging from $10,000 to $5 million, your restaurant can qualify for more than enough to fund your current menu update and cover the costs of future changes.