About one year ago, I was in Barcelona, Spain to attend an event, organized by Ferran Adrià Acosta – according to Time magazine, he is one of the best chefs in the world. One night, I asked the front office manager of the hotel, where I stayed, if there was any good place around to eat Paella. He gave me an awful blue-and-yellow coloured tri fold menu card that looked like it was designed by an elementary school child. It didn’t convince me, and I went to another restaurant. The day after, I decided to trust it: it was a small, cosy restaurant with one of the best paella I had in my life.
The menu is probably the most important thing for a restaurant, from the perspective of marketing and more. I said a trivial thing, is not it? But are you really aware of the great impact it has on your revenue? Is it clear to you that it is not only the list of the dishes of a restaurant? There are 20 things you should know about the menu design; disregarding just one of them may seriously affect sales.
The menu card is the main sale and communication tool of the company. It is the instrument by which you talk to your customers and recommend dishes, especially when you don’t have a good waiter. A menu should be able to:
- Orientating the sale of products enticing customers.
- Intriguing the “mind’s eyes.”
- Stimulating curiosity and propensity to purchase.
- Properly and comprehensively explaining dishes.
- Reassuring people in the choices made.
What to take into account when creating a menu
First of all, I beg you not to try to design the menu by yourself if you don’t have any experience as a professional graphic designer. Don’t think you can do it by yourself with Microsoft Word, Paint, or improbable menu design software. Worse yet, give the job to your teenager nephew, neighbour, or cousin who “is good with a computer” or download a menu template from the Internet.
It is not about the computer or Internet; it is a job for professionals. Don’t panic! You are not going to be ruined. You can have a professional menu design for a few bucks. Just go to www.fiverr.com or www.freelancer.com and hire a graphic designer for a small sum.
Before that, there are many things you should know about how to design an effective menu, as the designer doesn’t know anything about your restaurant, and you must be able to tell him exactly what you want. Following are the 20 characteristics you have to take into consideration about the design menu to make customers order more.
Colours can have a significant impact on perceptions and influence our actions. We know, for example, blue is associated with trust and is a relaxing colour, while green is the colour most commonly found in nature; it indicates freshness and renewal. Red indicates exuberance and enthusiasm and encourages action, while yellow is happiness and optimistic.
However, bear in mind that colours also affect consumers, based on certain cultural aspects. For example, the red in China has a different meaning than in Italy. Each colour has a meaning, and it is important to consider the use of colours not only in the logo design, but also in the design of the menu.
With the help of psychology of colours, you can use some of them to stimulate emotions and drive behaviour. For example, the use of orange on the menu graphics can stimulate the appetite and, consequently, the consumption of certain products.
Although, most restaurant menus don’t contain pictures, they represent one of the best merchandising techniques, and it is always advisable to incorporate them both in the menu and on communication materials. The inclusion of photographs requires a high level of attention and, above all, good taste.
Today, many budget digital cameras are available in the market that allow you to make good photos without the help of professional photographers (which are still to be recommended). A short course in photography or reading a few simple manuals will make you able to snap amazing pictures.
When you choose the photos to be inserted in the menu, take those that convey emotion and whet the appetite. Don’t use those in which you see empty tables, spare dishes, or dining rooms with no customers. Finally, don’t create false expectations: showing customers stunning pictures of dishes that you don’t serve in reality will create a negative boomerang effect.
3. Don’t put the currency sign
Understandably, the currency symbol, is the most repeated element of the menu. The signs “£“, “$”, “€”, “Dhs” and so on, symbolize money and give the idea that the restaurant aims only at making profits (which is true and is not a crime). But not inserting that symbol lets customer focus on the restaurant communication and on the other aspects not related to the check they will pay.
4 – Languages
How do you feel when you go to eat in a restaurant abroad and you don’t understand anything of what’s in the menu? If you do not want to give the same bad feeling, make the menu in multiple languages. Even if you don’t have an international clientele, and you receive only one foreign guest a year, make him feel comfortable.
Tony is a Sicilian entrepreneur, who opened a small Trattoria, away from the central areas of Palermo. He used to serve no more than a couple of foreigners per year, but he kept the Menu in English, Spanish, and French. Suddenly, since the spring of 2014, he began to receive tourists on a weekly basis and could not understand why. One day, he took courage and, with his poor English, asked an American customer how he found his restaurant. The tourist showed him an article about his Trattoria on a popular website for travellers. A customer that the restaurateur had in his Trattoria a few months before was a popular travel blogger, who published the detailed English menu that he found in the restaurant.
5 – The use of graphic space
Many managers believe that the more products you put in the menu, the more quality that the customer will attach to the restaurant. It is not true! When the human eye has dense text in front of it, it looks for the starting point on white spaces.
If you are reading a large amount of products, written in extremely dense form, your eyes, as if to look for a starting point, focuses on the biggest empty space. It is unnecessary and harmful to insert too many products on the menu pages.
You can use strategically empty space to drive customers’ orders and increase the sale of some dishes, rather than others.
6 – The use of icons
In the tourism sector, icons are widely used, a typical example is the stars used to define the category of hotels. Or think about the greatly renowned thumb-raised hand of Facebook to express their liking. Also, in the restaurant business, icons are greatly used, as they have immediate and precise communication, such as a chili pepper next to a product to inform about the level of spiciness. Of course, it is good not to overuse them.
It is proper to make a remark about the famous asterisk with a footnote. Often, this symbol is used to indicate the possibility that a certain product is frozen. As a consequence of the overuse of this symbol, a sort of “asterisk prejudice” is born, labelling the frozen products with a negative value, which often it doesn’t have.
7 – Where the eye falls
Every centimetre that makes up a menu is worthy of attention. When you look at a menu, your eyes follow a natural path. The arrangement of the products must act in accordance with this track to increase the sales of certain dishes and be able to forecast revenue.
In a trifold card, for example, the eye typically moves from the centre to the top right as follows.
This path forms a pair of “Golden Triangles“. Therefore, the place to put the products you wish to sell, or those with a greater margin, is at the top right. However, any menu format, if used every day for a long period, will produce a predictable sales mix.
This means, you will be able to forecast the preferences of guests and, therefore, the orders. This is a fundamental point. When you design an effective menu, you will be able not only to perform a good communication and sale function, but also to control the costs.
8 – Short and long descriptions
The human being is naturally inclined to observe and spot what is different. When in a list of short sentences, there is one long one, the attention will be captured by the latter; conversely, among many lengthy descriptions, the eye will notice straight away the brief ones. In creating the menu, the length of the descriptions is a factor to bear in mind. You might play with short and long sentences to give prominence to some items.
9 – Put the menu outside
How many times does it happen that, going to the supermarket, we bought a lot more than what we were willing to buy? This is due to the way in which products are displayed and put on the shelves. What would happen if these products were packed all in the same way with no indication of the price?
As you probably know, many people go out “to eat something”, but don’t know where. They just drive around some populated area (this is the reason you must find a good location for your business) and stop in some place, just because they are attracted by the sign or some appealing dishes inserted in the external menu.
Keep out of the building a menu, especially created to be there. It is not a legal requirement, but a serious investment, a tool that can transform passers-by into loyal customers. Finally, by putting a QR code on your external menu, people can have on their phone or tablet a menu that also contains prices for home delivery.
10 – The value of words
The words that are used in the menu should not only describe the products, but make them desirable, adapt themselves to customers, and express consistency with the restaurant brand. Just to give you an idea, it is better to use “crispy” and “golden” than “fried.”
In this way, the customer will order these dishes without thinking about the consequences on their figure. In addition to using “light” adjectives, it can often be helpful to include brief descriptions that indicate both the origin of products and the type of agriculture.
11 – Readability
Readability is crucial for any text and is based on many factors. The ease of reading words depends, not only on the media on which the menu is placed, (reading a text on paper is different from a monitor), but also on the font, the colour, the size, the location where it is read, the age, and the education of the reader, etc…
These aspects, therefore, must be taken into account when you want to design a menu that sells more. Before going through it, spot the restaurant’s target customers and adapt the menu’s style to them. For example, use big fonts for older people, big and colourful types for the children’s menu, special graphics design for the external menu, and so on.
12 – Simplicity
An effective menu must be simple. Simplicity, besides the above graphic aspects, also depends on the number of products listed. An excessive number of dishes doesn’t generate value for the restaurant, but stresses the reader. Four or five proposals for the first or second dish, along with off-menu dishes, is enough for a menu.
13 – Superlatives
Putting in the menu phrases, like “The best pizza in the country”, “Our quality restaurant”, “The best meat in the world”, “The best spaghetti on the planet” etc., will not add value to your restaurant. Singing your praises with superlatives will make you appear ridiculous. If you want to give yourself a compliment, do it with the credible and moderate adjectives.
14 – Show the brand personality
The world has changed; marketing has changed. Today, whether you like it or not, a brand must have “meaning” and no longer represent only products. Today, the consumer interacts with the brand.
Today, a brand must have its own personality, namely the set of human characteristics associated with it. The Brand Personality describes a brand in terms of human characteristics, such as serious, refined, playful, feminine, intelligent, traditional etc.
To give some examples of famous brands:
- Marlboro is: ‘masculine’.
- IBM is ‘old’ while Apple is ‘young’.
- McDonald’s is clean, fast, fun, convenient, family oriented.
- Coca Cola is ‘conformist’ while Pepsi’s ‘nonconformist’.
In a nutshell, your restaurant menu template, font, writing style, pictures, and all the other things related to the design, must show the personality of your brand.
15 – A menu that lasts
A menu must be adapted to the restaurant environment. For example, a menu of a restaurant bar with a pool must either be able to resist water and be easy to read in bright conditions, whereas in a luxury place, delicate materials may be used.
Every one, however, must always be in good condition, not scribbled, stained, or damaged, easy to replace, and not limited in number. But to do this, avoid making “immortal” menus with awful plastic covers.
16 – Menu holders
As for the menu, even the holders communicate feelings and emotions to customers. They also attribute value to the restaurant and, consequently, to the brand. The choice of design, material, and colour is very important for the dining experience. Be aware that the overused plastic holders communicate “attention to savings.”
The famous restaurant of Burj Al Arab in Dubai presented its menu with covers made of eel skin.
17 – Personalized menu
Among the errors, which are generally committed in the menu planning, is to have only one type of available menu. Creating different types of menu may be useful in making communication more effective. For example, you may have the follow situation:
- Menu for dessert.
- Menu for children.
- Menu for adults.
- Menu for vegetarians.
- Gluten-free menu.
- Menu for drinks.
- Seasonal menu.
18 – The origin of products
For a long time, consumers had no interest in the origin of the products; where every restaurant did their shopping, and who were the suppliers didn’t matter. Things have
Currently, there is significant attention given to the local products, and many restaurants built their concept around “only local products.” Putting this information in the menus is, therefore, not a problem, but an opportunity to be seized.
19 – The menu is an investment
The menu is your best seller and must work, according to how it was planned, and not randomly. Making a menu is not easy. A wrong menu is dangerous. It’s worth investing money and, especially, time resources; otherwise; as they say in the United States: “If you invest money for peanuts, expect to get monkeys!”
20 – Check
Last but not least, the price factor. Especially, in times of crisis, people want certainties. Customers always want to know what will spend. So why continue to remove these certainties by placing uncontrollable variables in the final bill. You have to remove, once and for all, the service and cover charge, so that if a pizza and a beer costs respectively 10$ and 5$, 15$ must appear in the final bill and not something else.