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Developing a Restaurant Menu: Tips and Tricks

Your restaurant may have an amazing chef and an array of appetising dishes, but you aren't likely to succeed if your menu is not well-designed.

When it comes to design, your menu should reflect the kind of cuisine your restaurant offers. Mexican food has a starkly different personality compared to Japanese or French cuisine. Furthermore, fast food is worlds apart from fine dining. Let's discuss some of the basics that go into developing a restaurant menu.

List Your Menu Items

You should start by typing out a list of items according to category. Resist the temptation to write these down on paper. Even if you do, you should create an Excel sheet for better organisation. This way, you will also be able to correct any spelling errors.

Make different lists for appetisers, main courses, desserts, and drinks. If your restaurant has daily specials, maintain a list for those too. If it is open all day, you should have separate menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Hire a Graphic Designer

We can't stress this enough.

Even if you think you can do a decent job of designing a menu, it's not going to come anywhere close to a professional job. Your menu will be the face of your restaurant for all your patrons to see and you should let an expert take care of it.

In no way does this mean you should be completely detached from this process. You can interview a few designers and request to see their portfolios. You can even share any design references and see how receptive they are to your ideas. Even if they disagree with your approach, trust them when it comes to branding. Ask pertinent questions and listen to what they have to say. Thorough professionals will come prepared with their ideas to pitch to you.

Pay Attention to the Layout

Menus may look simple enough, but there's a whole lot that goes into designing them. Menus tend to be on the shorter side, and so optimally utilising the given space is a feat in itself. There are some design rules. However, that must be adhered to.

The Golden Triangle

Menu items are not placed ad hoc on a menu. Nor is the placement of breakfast, lunch, and dinner items as simple as having dedicated pages.

Menu layouts are similar to how shelf spacing works in supermarkets, indirectly persuading customers to buy one product over another. When a patron gets their hands on your menu, you want them to look at popular dishes first. You also want them to consider ordering dishes with high profits.

Ideally, all menus should be designed bearing The Golden Triangle in mind. This entails placing menu items on three prime spots, guaranteeing that customers will not overlook them. In order of importance, these are as follows:

The Golden Triangle


This is the first spot people tend to look at when browsing menus. This is where you should list down chef's specials and other special items

Top Right

This is the spot their eyes travel to next. Reserve this space to list down main courses

Top Left

Finally, customers' gaze then travels horizontally to the left side. This is where appetisers should be listed 

Create Sections

Now that you have everything sorted as per The Golden Triangle, you need to sift through food items listed there by making sections.

As an example, the main courses listed in the top right are likely to warrant subdivisions. If your restaurant is serving chicken, beef, seafood, and vegan dishes, you should categorize them accordingly. One thing to note is that customers will skim through to find the kind of protein they want so it's best to be as clear as possible. If they have a hankering for beef, they will look only at the beef section.

If your restaurant offers eclectic cuisine, this becomes all the more necessary to do.

Add Photographs

You can use stock photographs if you're serving fast food items, burritos, tacos, lasagne, and burgers. If your specialty is fine dining, you should hire a professional food photographer. Have them come in and take photographs of plates of food as and when the chef prepares them.
Fine dining menus aren't image-heavy in any case, so you should aim to get three of your most popular dishes photographed.

Write Compelling Descriptions

Since your menu is selling your dishes, you should write a succinct description for each. It's sure to hit the spot.

If your restaurant serves ethnic cuisine, food descriptions may be more of a necessity than an option. The same goes for information about ingredients, which customers require with food allergies. If there is not enough space to cover all this on the menu, you can add a small note saying something along the lines of "We will be happy to answer your questions regarding ingredients."

Choose an Aesthetic

This is where it all comes together. The right aesthetic will help tie up all your design and textual elements. It will also align with the brand identity.

There is a lot more to this than choosing a colour scheme and sticking to it. You can have beautiful images and photographs, but something as basic as using the wrong typeface can wreak havoc on your overall design. Fonts host different personalities, and you should start with a few to create mock-ups. This will make it easier to narrow your options down to a select few. The decision to go with one will get simpler with each round.

Sometimes, even if a font seems to be in sync with the brand, it doesn't seem to uplift the menu in any way, nor does it complement its design. It's not a good idea to revise the design to match the font at this point. Let common sense prevail and look for other fonts instead. There's no point in wasting time.

Menu design plays an integral role in restaurant marketing and management. A single piece of card paper with items listed down in alphabetical order will not do much in the way of securing sales or customers. If you're starting out as a restaurateur or looking to rebrand, be sure not to overlook the humble menu!

New eBook Reveals How To Successfully Open A Restaurant… Free E-Book!


About the Author

Massimo’s career has grown up through the restaurant world, starting as a waiter through to high-end restaurant openings within an operational management capacity. This depth of experience has allowed him to understand the business from both a guest’s needs to what a team needs, giving him the benefit of an all-rounded view and approach to problem solving.