The fact is, a well-crafted menu goes way beyond listing dishes and prices – it has the power to create positive brand affinity and the persuasive ability to maximise sales and bring in the pounds. Something of a ‘win win’, I’m sure you’ll agree.

But getting it right takes some skill and designing the perfect menu is an intricate balance of art and psychology. The success determined not just by how it makes customers act when they interact with it, but also how it makes them feel. 

So easy to get wrong, but so effective when you know how, there are plenty of strategic and design techniques that create that success. And after decades of designing menus for every type of establishment and for every type of customer, we’ve picked up a few tricks in our time.

Yes, this means we find ourselves endlessly flicking through menus and analysing every little detail to decode the formulas and identify the perfect ingredients that make a great menu. But that’s part of the job we love doing. And we wouldn’t change it. 

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The thinking behind it

When designing any menu we have to think of it as two elements: function and form. 

Function covers off the main aspects of finding the perfect strategic visual layout, including structure, hierarchy, and formatting, which all aid the seamless navigation of menus and help guide the eye to specific categories or dishes – subconsciously influencing customers’ purchasing decisions. We like to think of it as visual hypnosis. Derren Brown in action!

Form, or the aesthetic, concerns the overall look and tone of the menu, made up of important elements like fonts, colour, materiality, illustration and photography, which all play on the emotional receptors that can also influence decision making, but will ultimately enhance the menu experience too. They can build positive association with the customer, helping to endorse and elevate the overall brand experience. After all, you’d make sure you turned up appropriately dressed for the occasion if you wanted to make a lasting impression, and the same goes for a menu.


Here’s a quick taste of some of the key ingredients.

1. Get me where I need to be

Guests want to find their way around a menu quickly and easily. A well-designed menu structure serves as the backbone of a restaurant’s offering, enabling customers to effortlessly navigate and make informed choices. 

A logical and intuitive layout guides guests to effectively locate categories and allows for easy scanning and comparison of items, quickly helping them to identify their preferences and check their dietary requirements. 

Visually distinct sectioning and categorisation creates clear hierarchy, facilitating easier navigation, seamless browsing and faster ordering. A clear structure can also help to showcase the diversity of offerings and entice diners to explore new dishes and drinks. 

2. Right place, right time

It may seem to be coincidence, but the strategic placement and formatting of menu items is what will significantly impact the ordering and spending decisions of customers. 

Skilful menu layout involves highlighting specific dishes through strategic positioning and eye-catching graphical elements. Studies and our own research show that customers tend to scan menus in a specific way. To capitalise on this behaviour, we are able to high-profit items or specials in these prime locations to drive spend.

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3. Short & sweet

Keep customers on track or they’ll lose interest, it’s that simple. When text is condensed into shorter columns and navigation is not compromised by verbose category titles, descriptors and statements, it allows for better scanning and quicker absorption of information. 

The eye can effortlessly move from one line to the next without getting lost or fatigued, meaning you can navigate through the menu more efficiently. Shorter columns can also enable larger font sizes, which contribute to better visibility, especially in dimly lit restaurant environments. 

As well as this, type configured into shorter columns occupies less space and presents the opportunity to introduce enhancing visual content. 

4. Space to breathe

Breathing space is a crucial element that significantly contributes to clarity and ease of navigation. Not only does it enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of a menu but also improves legibility and comprehension. 

The temptation is often to fill the space with as much as possible (“more is more”) but by incorporating neutral breathing space between menu items, sections, and text, it creates a visually balanced and uncluttered layout that allows the content to breathe, enhancing the functional effectiveness of the menu. 

In a sometimes overwhelming world of choice, providing visual relief for customers is essential to create a positive menu and ordering experience. 


5. Appealing aesthetic

Appearance is everything, so dress to impress. The visual presentation of a menu can truly captivate your audience. The careful crafting of design elements like typography, colours, imagery and materials are all powerful cues that will evoke certain moods, contributing to the overall customer experience and their brand perception. 

Capturing the right tone is essential to representing the offer, allowing customers to feel connected to the brand and environment before even taking a bite. 

Whether it be elegance, playfulness, or rustic charm, make sure it fits in.

6. Make it photogenic 

As the old saying goes, you eat with your eyes. Photography has the power to engage the senses, entice diners to indulge into specific culinary choices, stimulate appetites and elevate the overall menu experience. 

Carefully curated and beautifully captured images can make your mouth-water way before the food arrives. Not only can we tempt the taste buds, but there are food & drink stories to be told through tantalising compositions, including stories of fresh ingredients & provenance, freshly prepared dishes, the theatre of cooking in action or the finishing flourish of a garnish on a drink.

All of this can help to support a desired narrative and the psychology that contributes to influencing perception of value and quality of the offerings. 


7. It’s a material world

“Oooo, that feels lovely” is the reaction all designers would love to think customers have when they pick up a menu they’ve designed. It may not always be as conscious as this, but that initial physical connection the customer has will start to set the tone and expectation for things to come. 

The choice of cover materials, quality of paper stock & texture, binding mechanisms and finishes like embossing and foiling are all highly visual and tactile elements that feed perception, whether you’re aiming for something luxurious, authentic, eco-friendly or just great value. The materiality of a menu will contribute to the overall experience and is instrumental in reinforcing the brand’s values and positioning. 

8. In touch with your emotions

Colour moves us. The science says so. Colours have a profound impact on our emotions, often evoking powerful responses and influencing buying behaviour. They possess the remarkable ability to convey and create feelings and can affect our physiological and psychological responses, including heart rate, blood pressure, and mood, making them a very influential element in menu design. 

For instance, warm colours like red and orange are often associated with energy and passion, so they can increase excitement and stimulate appetites. Cool colours like blue and green are known for their calming and soothing effects and can also convey freshness. While yellow can bring about feelings of happiness and optimism, while purple can signify creativity and luxury. 

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Sorry, not sorry

So, next time you’re in a restaurant and you pick up a menu, take a moment to really consider how it’s been constructed and the effect on you as the guest. How does it make you feel? Was navigation and selection as easy as it could be? Is it making you excited for the food to arrive? Have you been tempted to try something new? 

We’re sorry to say, these are all the questions you’ll start asking yourself every time you go out to eat and as soon as you start, it’s impossible to stop!

However, if you’d like to leave it to the experts and have a conversation about how we can create the perfect menu for you and your customers, let’s have a chat – over a menu and a bite to eat!

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