The Components of Great Menu Design

Restaurant Menu Design

The Components of Great Menu Design

Studies shows a skillfully worded menu can increase a restaurant’s profitability by 10% or more. It can even shape the way a diner judges their food. The menu is not simply one of the first impressions a customer gets about your restaurant, it can affect their whole dining experience.

Today, restaurateurs are increasingly using menu psychology to influence the way diners choose their food. A well-designed menu gives the restaurant owner more control over their business and enables their kitchen to focus on producing excellent food.

What are the components of a great menu?

Menu Engineering

The science of menu engineering has been evolving for over 40 years. Its aim is to encourage diners to order items that generate the most profit while steering them away from those that yield less. This is done by combining psychology with an understanding of the profitability of the menu items.

A food’s description and its positioning on the menu can have a profound effect on its sales potential. Meals are divided into categories based on their popularity and profitability. Data showing how a typical diner scans a menu is then used to position each category on the menu for the desired result.

While ample evidence supports the various theories involved, there is disagreement about how the information is best used. Fortunately, you do not need to be a menu engineering expert to plan a menu that can boost your profits.

The “Sweet Spot”

According to one line of study, people scan menus in a specific pattern starting at the top right-hand side of the menu. Researchers call this the ‘sweet spot’ and many suggest this is where the most expensive items should be placed.

Other studies indicate that diners read a menu in the same way they do a book, from left to right, top to bottom. Whatever the truth about menu scanning, good lessons about menu design have been learned through numerous trials.

Positioning the most expensive item at the top of the menu with a cheaper but more profitable one directly below has been shown to result in more sales of the latter. This expensive item is known as a ‘decoy’ and leads diners to believe the cheaper option is better value.

An eye magnet is anything that draws the reader’s attention to a specific part of the menu. It might be a box around an item or a photo but sales of the targeted product are likely to increase. One researcher suggests no more than 8% of the items on a menu should be boxed to avoid losing the benefit.

Spoiled by Choice

The style and layout of the menu are important. With an average read time of around 100 seconds, a diner confronted by a cluttered menu will often opt for the simplest choice. Poor spelling and bad grammar can signal poor attention to detail, which diners may feel will be reflected in the food.

Some research implies that fancy fonts enable a restaurant to charge more for their food. This works best when the meals on offer and the general ambience support the concept of extravagance.

The use of images and fancy fonts will be dictated by the type of restaurant. It is unusual to find photos of food on the menu of an upmarket dining establishment and fancy fonts typically don’t work well in highway cafes.

Whilst the style of restaurant plays a part in the number of choices, most find that between five and seven alternatives in each section of their menu works best. This is due to a phenomenon known as ‘paradox of choice’.

Too many choices can create confusion and overload the diner, leading them to pick one of the lower priced or better known items to play safe. Another danger comes from the ‘what if?’ factor. With too many options available, the diner may wonder if their choice was the right one. Doubt leads to regret, which in turn results in reduced satisfaction.

Friendly Words and Numbers

Research by the University of Illinois in 2001 indicated that the words on a menu can have a direct effect on a diner’s total eating experience. Recent studies support this. They also show that imaginative and appealing text can encourage diners to pay up to 25% more for the same food presented with a less elaborate description.

The use of organic terms or ethnic words can add credibility, so long as any words unfamiliar to the diner are adequately explained. Using family names or references to even fictitious relatives, such as ‘Grandma Hilda’s famous apple tart’, can conjure up tastes and memories that reassure diners they are making the right choice. Careful crafting of the description has even been shown to affect the diner’s perception of the food’s taste.

By removing the dollar sign and placing the prices under the food description rather than in a column alongside, diners are encouraged to focus on the food rather than the cost. A report by the Center for Hospitality Research showed a significant increase in spending when the dollar sign was removed. Prices that end with a 9, like 9.99, signify value but those that end in a 5, such 9.95, appear ‘friendlier’.

Help the Diner Decide

Despite numerous papers and studies on menu design, opinions remain divided in many areas. Does the way people scan menus really influence what they ultimately order? Placing the prices under the description may work well in some restaurants but many Millennials prefer to see the price upfront.

People go to restaurants for many reasons: social, business and habit. The individual and the situation will often dictate the way they read the menu. But whether it’s impulsively or at leisure, the design of the menu can still influence their choices.

Little doubt exists that psychology plays a large part in how we order our food. Clear lessons can be gleaned from the research. Start by knowing the profitability of the items you sell. Use this knowledge to focus the diner on the money-making food through positioning and enticing descriptions.

Ultimately, the key point to remember when designing your menu is to reflect the style of food you offer and cater for the diners you want to attract. The choice is then theirs. Or is it?

Don’t want to tackle menu design on your own? We can help!

Menu Printing / Design School / ARC / Astronaut Crew / Menu Cover Depot / Business Insider

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Arianna O'Dell About the author

Helping both start-ups and Fortune 500 brands build their digital strategies and PR programs she’s passionate about hospitality, travel and good espresso. Whether you’re looking to gain press exposure, or on the hunt for killer content marketing – Arianna can help.

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