Restaurant Menu Design

Restaurant Menu Design:

It’s More Important Than You Realize


Bar / restaurant menu design is an area that is often overlooked among restaurant / bar owners.  It should be quite the opposite though – bar and restaurant owners should pay more attention to bar / restaurant menu design than they do on other less important areas of operations.  A simple redesigning of a restaurant or bar menu could be the most cost efficient way a bar owner has to increase revenues.  No other investment will pay off better for a bar owner than a well-designed bar menu.


Think about that for a second.  There is no other advertising / marketing / operational investment that you can make in your bar that will give you a better return on your (one-time) investment than an investment in your bar’s menu design.

Too many bar / restaurant menus these days are just a collection of words on paper.  Many have no pictures to speak of; some have too many items, some have too detailed a description and some too little a description.  Many contain spelling, grammar and punctuation errors as well as issues with fonts and readability.


There is a lot of psychology involved in getting your customers to choose the dishes that you want them to choose (i.e. high profit or signature items).   And, although there are many different studies which have been published on the subject, there has been no conclusive evidence of “gaze patterns” – where customers look and how much time they spend on each area of the menu.  Because there are so many variables; these studies, although helpful in reminding us of the importance that psychology plays in good menu design, do not need to form the basis for your menu’s layout.


Because restaurant menus come in such a wide variety of styles – from two-sided, single, half-page menus to tri-column foldouts and full-page menu inserts – as well as layouts, it’s not possible to find distinct patterns about where people tend to look first on a restaurant menu.  Instead, let me simplify this area of restaurant menu design by saying that most people will end up reading a menu like they do a book – unless there is something else on the page guiding their eyes elsewhere.


And it’s these other areas of restaurant menu design that you should be focusing on.  Things like:

  • PICTURES – If your menu doesn’t have any pictures (other than your logo), it’s an EPIC fail!  You’ve likely heard the saying that we eat with our eyes first, right?  Well, that’s especially true when deciding on what to eat.  Great restaurant menu design MUST include pictures of the dishes your bar or restaurant wants to highlight – your signature dishes and high-profit items.
  • LAYOUT - Your bar menu needs to be laid out in a way that highlights key menu items – one or two per section.  Just because people order drinks first, then appetizers, salads / soups and entrees followed by dessert and coffee / tea or aperitifs, doesn’t mean your menu needs to be laid out that way.  If you have a fairly extensive menu and drink selection, you can separate the cocktail, wine and dessert menu from your main menu.  And even further by breakfast, lunch and dinner if necessary.  And if you want to highlight your restaurant’s awesome prime rib and sirloin steak dinners, then make entrees the first page people see – leave the snacks and appetizers for the back of the menu.  Generally people tend to choose their entree first and then build up their meal around it.
  • COLOURS - First off, your menu needs to be in full-colour.  Secondly, the colours you choose for your menu should be colors that are associated with your establishment.  The colours, look and feel of your bar menu should give people who haven’t visited your establishment before a good idea about what the place looks and feels like before they get there.
  • MENU SIZE - Just like your menu’s colors should be associated with the color scheme of your bar or restaurant, so should the actual size of your menu(s).  If you own a quaint little cafe, then your menu should represent that.  If you own a German pub that serves huge beers and big meals, then your menu should reflect that in size as well (referring to the actual dimensions of the menu rather than the number of items on the menu).
  • FONT STYLE - When you’re choosing fonts for your menu, don’t get cute.  There are certain font styles that people are just used to reading and are easier on the eyes.  Some fonts work better online than in print and vice versa.  On your printed menu, stick with the tried and tested fonts: Times New Roman, Palatino, Georgia, Courier, Garamond, Bookman and Garamond – and don’t use more than 2 different font types.
  • CONTRAST – This refers to the contrast between the colors you choose for your menu as well as the legibility of the font against whatever color / image-rich background your bar menu has.  Keep in mind the conditions in your establishment when people will be reading the menu.  Will it be in a dark nightclub where you’ll need the most contrast to ensure customers can read the menu?  Or will it be in a bright, well-lit restaurant where the contrast doesn’t have to be so extreme?
  • DESCRIPTIONS - Just like a menu needs pictures to invoke people’s imaginations, it also needs good menu item descriptions.  Menu items need to be described concisely but also tantalizingly.  Tell how the dish is made, use (but don’t overuse) descriptive adjectives and focus more detail on your signature menu items.
  • BOXES / FRAMES / BORDERS - With the use of boxes, frames and borders, you can draw your customers’ eyes where you want them to go on your menu.  Break up your menu into sections using boxes, frames and / or borders.  These will help you guide your customers towards the decisions you’d like them to make.
  • PRICE POSITIONING - Both the prices themselves and the way they’re shown on your menu are both very important.  Pricing or costing your menu items is another topic altogether.  Sticking with restaurant menu design, you want to do two things:1.  Take dollar signs off your menu – in addition to there being something off-putting about dollar signs to customers, it just looks better without them.  We all know those numbers are the prices.2.  Don’t position menu item prices so that they’re all lined up down one side.  People will choose based on price alone if you do that.
  • CONTACT INFO - Just as your bar’s business card is a promotional tool, so is your bar’s menu.  In addition to the usual address and phone number, don’t forget to add your website, Facebook page, Youtube channel or any other online properties you use and update regularly.


If you’re thinking about restaurant menu design – and you’re looking to design your own restaurant or bar menu – keep the above rules in mind and make sure that you work with someone who’s proficient in graphic design.


Don’t want to concern yourself with bar menu design but realize how important a professionally-designed menu is?  At Bar CPR, we’ll work with you to design a menu that looks professional, represents your brand and brings in more revenues.  

Bar CPR is a Victoria, BC bar consulting firm specializing in helping bars and restaurants bring in more revenue and higher profits by focusing on systems, training and effective marketing.



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