The 5 Not-So-Secrets of Menu Design Every Restaurateur Must Know

Menu design is equal parts psychology and graphic design. Every successful menu persuades customers to make decisions that are beneficial for the business, even if the customer ends up ordering a dish they might not have otherwise. 

These tricks aren’t secrets kept in a vault by marketing wizards. They’re simple, timeless, and most importantly—time tested. Any restauranteur should know them before printing their first menu. 

If you feel your menu is falling flat with your customers, try utilizing one or more of these not-so-secrets and see how they help improve your sales and boost your bottom line. 

  • Color is Everything

All of the colors we experience in our daily lives play a part in constructing our mood. In fact, research shows that our personal experiences often tailor our perception of color and how it affects our mood as well. That’s why using the right hues can increase customer satisfaction. For example, brands such as McDonalds that utilize yellow hues often elicit a positive feeling. It’s hard to see the golden arches and not think of their playground. On the other end, use too much white and your customer will be bored. Too much blue can make them sad. One trick is to showcase foods that have yellow ingredients like squash or heirloom tomatoes. 

  • Utilize the Golden Triangle

When we look at a menu, our eyes begin in the middle before moving outward toward the right and left-hand corners. This is known as the “Golden Triangle”. Next time you go out for pizza or Mexican food, notice how the restaurant’s specialty items are always placed in one or more of these three areas. Typically, those specialty items are also their highest margin foods. Take a look at El Tejado’s menu and see if you can see where the Golden Triangle is. 

  • Price Placement

One of the biggest misconceptions about menu design is that dishes just need to be grouped by categories like appetizer, entree, desert, and the like. However, more importantly, dishes need to also be arranged by price so that certain dishes look like a good deal. You wouldn’t want all of your customers buying a $20 dish that only nets you $5 versus a $15 dollar dish that nets you $10, right? I didn’t think so. Price placement entices your customers to purchase higher-profit dishes while making them feel like they got a deal. This is done by placing more expensive dishes at the top of your menu to make dishes in the middle seem like a deal. Tavernetta, an upscale restaurant in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood, embodies this principle in their menu. Notice how your eyes don’t mind seeing the $30 Tagliatelle after perusing through several high-dollar entrees.  

  • Controlled Costing

Another psychological key to menu construction is controlled costing. Remember, while your customer is in your restaurant, they’re not only enjoying the atmosphere. Most of the time, they’re doing some serious number crunching to estimate just how much their dinner will cost. That’s true of any diner, whether on a date or in a group. However, the only thing more important that having a welcoming restaurant space is the customer’s perceived value of your business. You can increase your perceived value in several ways, but for the purposes of your menu, used controlled costing. A customer who sees the price $11.95 will not be able to quickly approximate how much their dinner costs versus a customer who sees $12.00. Whole number also add an air of chic sophistication to your menu. Look how chef Troy Guard controls his menu costs at his namesake restaurant, Guard and Grace. Even a non-accountant can easily decipher just how much they’re about to spend through simple addition. 

  • Use Negative Space

Restaurants often calculate sales per square foot. The same calculation can be made for your menu. Too much text will overwhelm a customer. Not enough makes it seem like you don’t have a lot to offer. Instead, find a happy medium where your highest margin items are set away from the busyness of your menu and in a space all their own. Famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten utilizes negative space very well in his restaurant menus. His restaurant JoJo in New York City features a litany of pristine offerings. Check out their menu and see if you can see how negative space makes his protein dishes look appetizing, even without the use of pictures. 

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