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Posted by Thera-lee Rego on November 26, 2017

One of the most important parts of a restaurant branding is its menu. A restaurant's menu is a reflection of the restaurant itself and is one of the first things a guest will look at when they decide to try it out. We eat with our eyes before our stomach, so it is important that branding (look and feel) on a menu be cohesive while standing out and complementing the restaurant's branding. 

Before designing a menu, we always recommend looking at the competition. It’s okay to create a similar look and feel when done right, but differentiating your restaurant should always be top of mind. What makes your restaurant special? What makes it stand out from the crowd?

Here are some design rules to help you achieve the PERFECT menu design: 

Select Good Typography

The first rule when choosing fonts for a menu is to pick fonts that tie back to the brand and complement each other, for example if a restaurant is serving gourmet dishes with higher price points, then refined typefaces would be appropriate. If it is a casual restaurant, pick less formal fonts, think playful and fun. Another rule when selecting fonts is to consider how much room on the page there will be.  On a smaller menu, a font family that has condensed versions would be helpful. As a general rule of thumb, fonts that are illegible and that are hard to read at small sizes are best avoided completely. Additionally, consider limiting the number of fonts used, usually two to three font families are plenty, otherwise the menu may look unprofessional.

Using a custom font makes this new meal offering stand out.

Choose Appropriate Colours

When deciding on colours for the menu always try to incorporate brand colours for consistency. All colours have a psychological impact on people, so choosing the appropriate colour theme is important to help customers understand what the restaurant represents. Warm colours such as red, orange and yellow add cheer to a menu design and are appropriate for restaurants that offer spicier food options like a Mexican or Shawarma restaurant. While the colour green suggests healthy and natural foods.  Green is best used for healthy food places such as vegetarian restaurants or pita places. Earth tones, like rich browns, beiges and tans convey a more comfortable feeling and are mainly used in steakhouses and higher-end restaurants. In the end, colour is extremely important as it sets the foundation for the whole look and feel that a customer will experience and should be used with care.

This eastern colour theme uses rich reds and light greens which are high contrast colours to help make the food more inviting and exciting.

Use Food Photography To Help Set Tone

Not all menus need to showcase food photography; it all depends on the type of restaurant. Some upscale restaurants opt out on showcasing food images and instead describe the food using descriptive words, however showcasing food on a menu should be done carefully and professionally. When capturing food photography, it’s best practice to hire a professional food photographer and food stylist. They will make sure that the food looks enticing on the menu and that everything flows together while maintaining a similar look and feel. Food photography isn’t just about the food, it’s about the ambiance it sets for the customer, so it is important to pick suitable glassware, plates, table dressings and textures in the photographs to help sell the overall atmosphere while complementing the brand.

Using a rustic wood background and clean white dishes, helps make the food look authentic and fresh.

Consider Illustrations To Add Flare

Illustrations can give a sense of something handmade and hand-drawn; it’s a nice way to add a little something extra to a menu design. Illustrations can be used subtly on a menu to add playfulness and uniqueness.

The use of illustration helps create a fun dynamic look and feel for this promotion.

Create Menu Hierarchy

Make it easy for customers to find menu items by arranging them sequentially and in logical groups. Most menus start off with appetizers, soups and salads, main entrees, desserts and then list beverages. It’s important that the menu flows easily and that people understand what options they have with each menu item. Understanding the natural way a person's eyes scan a page will help determine where to add photography and typography. Also, make sure that the overall menu is balanced so it’s easy to know what customers will read first and what they will read last.

This menu uses hierarchy in it's simplest form; by creating clear red section headers it is easy to read and understand.

Design Menu Sections And Descriptions Appropriately

It’s important to clearly identify section headers and descriptions. You can achieve this by picking a different font and making it larger and bolder.  Using elements such as lines or boxes to help categorize the different sections will make it easier for the customer to find what they are looking for. Use descriptive copy to help explain the food in an appetizing way, but keep it short and simple because if the customer doesn’t understand the ingredients they most likely won’t take a chance on ordering that item.

Using delicious descriptions of drinks helps the customer make a choice.

Use Icons Properly

Icons provide emphasis and are mainly used to help distinguish the differences between food items. A great place to use icons on a menu is when you want to quickly call out vegetarian, new and signature menu items. It makes it easy for the customer to quickly glance at the menu, see the icon and then know what items they can order based on that quick bit of information.

Icons help give customers a quick look at what the food has to offer. On this menu, it is easy to find the vegetarian items as they are shown using
the symbol of a leaf.

Use Callouts For Special Menu Items

If a printed menu has a special promotion it’s a good idea to call it out. Add special callouts by having a different type treatment and by making it larger on the page so it stands out. For example a holiday special can have a holiday script treatment with a festive name, making it stand out from the rest of the menu giving the menu something a little extra.

This promo calls out the "Merry Teriyaki Trio" meal; it adds a bit of flare to a normal meal with a bit of a holiday twist.

Understand Price Placement And Design

Depending on the type of menu you are designing you can treat your price placement differently. If it’s a more upscale restaurant than you might want to have the price small without the dollar sign to make it look more sophisticated. If the restaurant is a casual restaurant, then it’s okay to make price points a little bigger, but they should not be the first thing your eyes see on a page. When using pricing on a menu make sure to superscript the cents amount, as that is a common design rule of practice.

This menu design subtly calls out the pricing on the side using rounded numbers which helps elevate the menu's look and feel.

Refresh Your Menu When It’s Getting Stale -  Both Printed And Online

It is a great idea to strategically update your menu.   Keep your classic selling menu items that your customers enjoy, but having special menu items that change seasonally or annually will provide variety and freshness to your restaurant. It allows your customers to try new items and attract new customers. When updating your printed menu it is also a good idea to update your online menu.  You can do this by creating a downloadable pdf of your menu so that customers can easily view it or if you really want to make an impact you can get a web-designer to take the printed design and optimize it for web.

This printed menu from Lazeez Shawarma transitions nicely to the website, as it carries over the same colours and fonts.

Overall menu design is not just a way of showing off your restaurants dishes, it’s a marketing tool used to help communicate your restaurant's identity, and if designed properly, can help drive profits and bring in new customers.

If you are in need of a menu refresh or need a menu created, let us help you get started!