Enas El Masry

Although every F&B business owner knows that it’s necessary to have a menu, many overlook the importance of perfecting their menu design. Before we jump into the menu design fundamentals, let’s first revisit what a menu is and what customers expect from a successful menu design.

What is a menu?

Pff, that’s easy. It’s the list of items that a restaurant, cafe, or patisserie offers its clients. Right? At face value, yes. But, it’s so much more than that.

The menu is the blueprint for all of your restaurant’s operations. It influences everything from how the kitchen is set up to how much of any ingredient is stocked. But for today’s purposes, we’ll discuss how restaurant menu optimization can turn your menu into a solid sales tool.

How to design a menu that sells?

When designing a restaurant menu, you’re essentially assembling a mixture of visuals and text. Each of them delivers a specific message that reflects on the brand persona, the type of cuisine, its sophistication and inclusivity, and the expected value for money.

Combined, these choices determine the success or failure of your restaurant menu design.

With a growing need for an omnichannel presence that spans online and offline, your menu should be up to par as both hard and soft copy. Although your menu should display the same content regardless of the format, the experience of consuming it differs across channels.

To make sure your dessert shop menu design is consistently a success, let’s go over the fundamentals of menu design and the specifics of print and online menus.

The Fundamentals of Menu Design

Customers expect the best menus to guide them to their desired destination as fast as possible. With the following tips in mind, your menu will pique your customers’ curiosity, work up their appetite, and entice them to make a purchase.

1. Design a menu that’s easy-to-scan

Some customers may pick up the menu knowing what they want. Others do so with the intention to explore new options. Whatever state they're in, they should be able to build an accurate impression of your restaurant at a glance.

FOR PRINT & ONLINE

  • Sort your menu into logical categories. This makes it easier for the customers to find what they’re looking for. For a patisserie, these categories can include waffles, cupcakes and muffins, cakes, ice cream, oriental/sharqy, cookies, doughnuts, and more. For an online menu, these categories appear as tags in the side or top navigation bar.
  • Attach symbols to the menu descriptions. This helps your customers find the best-suited items for their dietary needs. These icons can signify if the items are sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb, vegan, or other. If you have separate menu sections for these dietary preferences, then the icons are redundant. Otherwise, it’s advisable to include them to help your customers make a better-informed decision.

FOR PRINT

  • Choose a legible font. Your text must be easy to read in headings, subheadings, or normal text.
  • Differentiate categories. Type category titles in a different font, font size, or color to make them stand out.
  • Use boxes to draw attention to your special menu items.

FOR ONLINE

  • Highlight promotions. Include an updated section for best sellers and promotions.

2. Write appetizing descriptions

As soon as your customers land on their desired section of the menu (in print or online), they’ll start zooming in on the details of your menu items. This usually signals the moment of truth: Will they find the one item that satisfies their craving?

Although many aspects contribute to the customer’s purchase decision, the way you describe your dishes plays a major role. A successful menu description does more than list the ingredients that compose your cordon bleu; it paints a mental image, evokes the senses, and tells a story.

Follow these tips to write the most appetizing menu descriptions:

  • Don’t skimp on words. Market studies suggest that longer menu descriptions add higher implied value to your dishes. This means your customers may be more willing to pay extra for your dishes' higher value.
  • Use the menu description space to describe your dishes. The beauty of food is that it evokes so many senses, from sight to smell and taste. That’s why a successful dish description highlights how the dish delights different senses. Aspects of food that you can describe include flavor, texture, and method of preparation. Think, for example, of the air-lightness of a muffin, the crispy, glazed sugar crust of crème brûlée, or the marriage of cold, smooth vanilla ice cream and warm, rich chocolate brownies.
  • Write in simple language. Don’t confuse elaborate descriptions with hard-to-understand words. The rule of thumb is that a good menu description should be understandable to a 7-year-old.
  • Befriend the thesaurus. No matter how heavenly your dishes are, repeating the same adjectives throughout the menu will make your customers feel bored. Don’t shy away from resorting to the thesaurus to invigorate your menu descriptions. After all, we’re certain that your food is delicious, scrumptious, delectable, and flavorsome.
  • Choose creative names for your dishes. A good dish name should be easy to understand without asking for help. But it should also intrigue the customers’ curiosity so they stop to read the description. Dare to be funny and witty (but not lame, though!). A chuckle or two can be appetizing, too.
  • Give your dishes a backstory. Would you rather eat a commercial adaptation of tiramisu or my Nonna’s Original Italian Tiramisu? Before food was commercial, it was communal. Many recipes are passed down through generations. And with every new cook, the recipe gets modified to perfection. A dish that has a backstory comes with this familial waft of warmth and flawlessness. Wouldn't you want that for your goodies?

FOR ONLINE

  • Include keywords to boost SEO. The right keywords can help your customers find you online. Inject these SEO keywords into your menu description as well as the image description text.

3. Use photos wisely

There is a lot of truth to the proverb, “You eat with your eyes first.” In fact, research suggests that “visual stimuli have been shown to alter the perception of taste, smell, and flavor.” While this comes in handy for menu design engineers, photos must always be employed with the utmost care.

FOR PRINT & ONLINE

  • Hire a professional food photographer. There are a gazillion tips online on how to master the art of food photography with your phone. While this could (and I repeat, could) work for your social media activity, you definitely need to invest in a flawless photoshoot for your menu. The quality of your menu’s photos reflects on your dishes’ perceived quality. This, in turn, influences the type of clientele that your menu design attracts. It also affects how much they feel comfortable paying for your food.
  • Highlight your dishes’ best features. A good photo isn't supposed to only look good, but it also must smell and taste good, too. This phenomenon is known as gustatory and olfactory imagery. It happens when descriptive text or good photography makes us almost taste or smell the food depicted. Such imagery can cause viewers to salivate and desire the food. Before staging the shoot, you must first ask yourself, what is special about each dish? Only then can you brief the food stylist and photographer. Mouthwatering features could be molten chocolate oozing out of a molten chocolate cake or the golden, freshly baked mille feuille sheets topped with glistening glace icing. It could be the softness of pudding or the crunch of granola.
  • Utilize props and backgrounds. Props and backgrounds play various roles in your menu design photographs. They add visual depth to the image, break up the uniform brownness of some baked or chocolate desserts, and, when exercised with mastery, tell a story. The choice of props and backgrounds should remain in line with the overall menu design art style and brand persona.
  • Commit to the expectations you set. Appetizing photography can be great for driving sales. But beware, for a good photo sets high expectations. Serving an item that doesn’t look as good as its promotional image can disappoint customers. So, make sure you commit to the idiom "What you see is what you get."

FOR PRINT

  • Use photos sparingly. The amount of photos you incorporate into your menu design depends on the impression you want to project on your restaurant. Menus with many images tend to be associated with family-oriented and casual franchises. Whereas fancy, high-end restaurants and patisseries are likely to use a maximum of two images per page.
  • Feature your highest value or best-selling dishes. A good print menu design doesn’t need to look like a catalog to be appetizing. With eloquently written menu descriptions, you only need to feature your highest value or best-selling dishes to boost their sales.

FOR ONLINE

  • Let the photos do the talking. When a customer skims through a print menu, they are basing their expectations on many visual cues. These cues include the paper quality of the print menu and the general menu design style. With online menus, many of these indicators are absent, making it hard for the customer to build expectations for your food’s quality. Attaching an honest, yet appetizing, photo to each menu item fills this expectations gap and guarantees to boost sales.

4. Choose the right colors

Did you know that the colors you choose for your brand and menu design can affect sales? That’s right. Colors do a lot more than looking good on a menu. Each color can both influence how we feel about the brand and what we expect it to present. According to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of purchasing decisions are influenced by emotions and subconscious cues.

So, how do colors contribute to these subconscious triggers?

  • Red: On the emotional range, red is a fiery and feisty color. It speaks the language of passion, energy, and appetite. Among the edibles, red signals sweetness and ripeness.
  • Orange: Taking after red, orange brings about feelings of vitality and energy. However, it falls more on the satisfactory end of the spectrum. It is often used in branding to signal affordability.
  • Yellow: Like the sun and how happy it makes us feel, yellow is a feel-good color. That’s why color psychologists associate it with happiness and optimism. Because of their qualities, combining orange and yellow make people feel the most hungry. Add red to this equation, and people feel vigorously hungry. Can you think of any fast food chains that use these colors to attract customers?
  • Green: You guessed it right. Green is the color of natural and healthy foods. You often find it in brands that are eco-friendly, organic, or generally healthy. To complement green and its natural feel, designers often pair it with brown which resembles earth and nature as well. That’s why you’ll find that many recyclable packages tends to be brown (like paper bags or carton boxes).
  • Blue: Color psychologists suggest that blue is an unappetizing color because of its scarcity in natural foods. This isn’t all bad for menu design though. Designers and menu engineers tend to use blue when the purpose is to curb the appetite for weight-loss.
  • Other colors that carry an emotional feeling include purple, black, and white. Purple signifies uniqueness and royalty. Black reflects luxury. And, white communicates simplicity.

Putting together a successful menu design can be challenging, but you only need to do it right once. So, take your time to learn more about what makes a menu design successful and what works best for your brand.

And, as always, we’re always one step away if you need any help.