Redesigning Your Drink Menu for Success

Along with everything else about our lives, engineering a restaurant menu to increase revenue and boost profitability face new challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic. Once hailed as a restaurant’s “silent salesperson,” printed menus seem to be an afterthought for businesses struggling to maintain sales.

Furthermore, some mobile-friendly menus seem more like an afterthought as businesses scrambled to catch up to the increased demand for to-go and delivery options. This impact has been especially devastating for bars and pubs, who often rely heavily on their printed menu to promote their brand.

While every business should be strategic when redesigning their menu, the challenges created by the pandemic have added new factors that should be considered. For starters, businesses are increasingly reliant on mobile-friendly menus in order to drive sales and boost revenue. This article will cover a few other factors to consider and offer some suggestions to optimize drink menus during these trying times.

Modern Menu Psychology

Referred to as “menu engineering,” the first research conducted about menu design and its relationship to customer choices appeared in 1971 when psychologist Albin Seaberg published his book “Menu Design.” The basic premise of the book is that a menu can capture the attention of a customer and persuade them to select a restaurant’s most profitable item.

Over time, researchers have found a number of ways restaurants can design their menus to elicit a desired response from their customers. Current research by Dave Pavescic at Georgia State University found that over time “Any menu, any design, and any format will produce a predictable sales mix if put in service every day for a prolonged period.”

Optimizing Drink Menus

While most of the current research presented here deals with printed menus, some of the basic principles apply to mobile-friendly menus as well. For example, both printed and mobile-friendly menus serve three basic functions: communicate the brand, express the value, and champion the competitive advantage of a business. And you have just 109 seconds to teach all of this to your customer, according to FoodTechConnect. This is true of hotdog stands and of Michelin-rated restaurants.

There are essentially five basic ways to optimize your drink menu to accomplish these goals. They are architecture, graphic design, strategic placement of profitable items, setting the tone, and using effective descriptions.


Your menu’s architecture needs to clearly express what your business is. Just like the quirky fireplace in your foyer and this week’s specials, your menu needs to add to the personality of your restaurant, not subtract from it.

One effective way to give drinks their own menu. It complicates your restaurant’s personality and asks the customer to consider the drinks on their own merit.

Drinks are also oftentimes the most profitable items on the menu and must be treated as such. A successful drink menu is organized with the highest-profit item at the top and descends to the lowest.

Be mindful of how each entry looks compared to the others. Does the page look balanced? Is it too obvious which items you want your customers to choose? Other ways to accomplish this will be discussed below.

Fonts, Bolding, and Italics

Successful drink menus benefit greatly from the strategic use of fonts, bolding, and italics is different combinations.

Once each entry is balanced in proportion to the others, deploying different fonts can draw your customer’s attention to high-profit items. It can also be used to communicate your competitive advantage.  If your chef is offering a modern twist on a local favorite, your menu needs to say it loud and clear.

Strategic Placement of High-Profit Items

One of the most useful insights is that customers do not read menus, they scan them. They look at particular areas of menus in predictable ways. By placing high-profit products in these areas, businesses maximize their opportunities to increase the sale of these items.

All of your high-profit items need to be designed as an eye magnet on your drink menu. Typically, this can be achieved simply by placing the item at the top of the menu or setting them apart in an attention-grabbing graphic. If the item isn’t a permanent staple on your menu, set it apart with a limited time offer disclosure.

This tactic will become increasingly important as more restaurants ditch printed menus for fully optimized digital ones. Restaurants are focused on lowering turnover times for dine-in service because of local capacity restrictions. This means their menus need to provide their customers with enough information to make a decision that benefits the business.

When creating your digital menu, consider how it reads to your customers. If your most profitable items are not at the top, you risk losing an opportunity to sell items that help sustain your business better than others.

Setting the Mood and Use Effective Descriptions

Just like lighting, restaurant menus also set the mood for the customer’s experience. If your restaurant offers customers a relaxed, fun-loving atmosphere, make sure your menu shows that. Use quirky descriptions for common items.

The Englewood Grand in Englewood, Colorado uses this tactic very effectively. Recently, their drink menu included a Russian blonde ale. The description read, “Not one of those Russians that got President Trump in trouble.”

Another way your menu sets the mood is through its design. Choosing the right design for your menu is the first step toward branding your restaurant and separating it from the competition. Recent research published in the Journal of Hospitality Science found rigid and geometric menus often exude sophistication in a customer’s mind. Conversely, busy and colorful menus exude familiarity.

Strategically deploying the right design is a crucial step toward ensuring your customers maintain a familiar experience with your business, regardless of whether they dine in or order to-go.

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