How to Design an Effective Restaurant Menu

Waitress serving people at a restaurant
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An effective restaurant menu mixes a well-planned layout, well-written descriptions and correct pricing for food cost ration. Good menus avoid crowded layouts overly wordy descriptions and unnecessary graphics. Menu items should reflect your restaurant’s theme. Updating your restaurant menu is also important to keep on top of food costs and food trends.

Menu Basics

The ideal restaurant menu offers a balance of classic dishes and fresh food trends, while balancing the right food cost to maintain and increase profits. Before you begin writing anything down, you need to decide what items to offer at your restaurant. A restaurant menu design is a reflection of a restaurant’s concept and intended audience.

Menu Pricing

Once you’ve decided on what foods you will offer, do the math for the correct food cost and assess how large your portions will be. Another way to ensure a profit is to create a balance of expensive and inexpensive items and limiting the use of market price items, which have the greatest fluctuation in prices.

Menu Layout

A restaurant menu layout is a reflection of the restaurant itself. Restaurant menu designs, whether formal, casual or playful, should match your restaurant concept, location, and theme. Your menu font and color scheme should also reflect your restaurant theme. For example, if you are opening an Italian restaurant with an emphasis on Tuscan cuisine, muted colors such as yellow, coral, sage green and brick red, colors associated with the Tuscan countryside, would all make for a suiting menu layout.

However, those same colors would look out of place on the menu of a Mexican restaurant or a French café.

Apply that same thinking to your font selection. A French bistro may have a classic script font or simple plain font, while a sports bar or other casual restaurant might have a less formal or playful font. Beware of choosing a font that is hard to read or too small.

Menu Descriptions

A menu description should be vivid and enticing enough to make a guest’s mouth water. Always explain what are the major ingredients are in a particular dish, and use ethnic names to add a bit of authentic flair to the menu description, as long as they fit. Overall, a good rule of thumb when writing the descriptions is to keep it short and simple.

Consider Local Foods

Using local produce allows you to add variety to your restaurant menu, changing it with the seasons and is a good marketing tool. Today, using local foods on your restaurant menu goes beyond just fruits and vegetables. It can refer to sustainable beef and seafood, artisan foods, homemade desserts, or hyper-local restaurant gardens. Not only does buying local produce help your local economy, but the food usually tastes and looks better than those grown in larger corporation farms.

Keep Your Restaurant Kitchen in Mind

Generally, the size of your restaurant will dictate how large your menu is. The bigger the kitchen, the more menu items you can offer. If you try to offer a large and complex menu out of a tiny commercial kitchen (which can be done, though it isn’t easy) you may run into serious problems during lunch and dinner rushes. Your restaurant kitchen should be between 15-25% of the total space in your restaurant. Any smaller and you run the risk of limiting how much what you can serve during a shift. Any larger and you are wasting prime real estate that could be used for customer seating.