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Menu Design Essentials

Let your creativity shine with menu design! Menus are nearly limitless when it comes to design possibilities, but they can be challenging, too. In fact, a great menu design can increase sales by up to 10 percent. With so much riding on the success of your menu design, you have take special care to properly plan your design elements before you fire up Illustrator or InDesign.

The following menu design essentials will put you on the right track for crafting compelling menus that sell:

Capture the atmosphere

It’s important that your menu design captures the restaurant’s atmosphere. Is it a classy Italian bistro or a beer-slinging sports bar? An all-American grill or an old-time diner? Your menu colors, fonts and other elements should be consistent with the restaurant’s theme; and your menu should tell your customers what they’re about to experience in terms of food and service quality and overall tone.

Highlight what you want to sell

Your menu should be easy to read, and it should work to draw people to the items you really want to sell. Highlight special items and house favorites in boxes or other graphic elements to help them stand out. Restaurateurs know what food items bring in the most profit, so it’s important that menus are used as marketing material to promote specific items.

Position intuitively

Most restaurant menu items are in chronological order: appetizers, main course, desserts, beverages, etc. This works because customers have come to expect a similar layout – so your sections should be well defined and easy to find.

At the same time, you want to promote your specials, so you should position your top items where they’re most likely to be noticed. For a tri-fold menu, that’s the center inside panel. A four-page menu, that’s the top portion of the right-hand inside page.

When you have lists of items, such as sides or appetizers, put your top performers in the first two spots or the last spot; and go with one or two columns to space everything evenly. If your menu is too busy, it will be hard to read.

Include plenty of images

Study your competitors’ menus before you design – you want your menu to be very different and absolutely stellar in comparison. You want your dishes to look better than the rest. Instead of a bland photo of a plate of spaghetti, dress the spaghetti up with herbs and depict the meal in an Italian kitchen or being enjoyed by happy customers. Your images should combine pleasure and atmosphere, and tantalize the senses. The best menu design compliment is when a customer says, “Boy I’m stuffed! I guess my eyes were bigger than my stomach.” That means you’ve done your job.

Images don’t have to be photos – they can be graphic elements such as drawings and vector art, as long as they achieve the desired effect (no clip art!). Remember, it is possible to clutter your menus with images, so use plenty of white space; use images to highlight your best sellers/biggest moneymakers; and make them bright and easy to see.

Remember that menus aren’t just at work at the table: They’re taken home and stuck on refrigerators, placed in drawers or files, inside bill collectors or tacked on office billboards. When people are deciding where they want to go to eat, they look at the menus at home and often the best-looking menu (ahem, advertisement) will win the customers.

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