Picture it, a patron looks at your menu and is so entranced by the layout and design that he/she forgets to even look at the prices. The menu is a crucial internal marketing and sales tool because it is the only piece of printed advertising that you are certain will be read by your customer.

Think of it as your restaurant’s business card. You are trying to sell a product and service because your restaurant is a business like any other. Thoughtless menu design makes your restaurant lose money. When you place items on a menu strategically, instead of randomly, it will be more beneficial for your restaurant.

Highlight profitable items

Do not assume that all menu items should receive the same attention. Design your menu to highlight your more profitable dishes. Let your waiters hype up that dish verbally as well. This is known as menu design psychology. Its concept was introduced to the industry by the late Albin G Seaberg in his book, Menu Design – Merchandising and Marketing, published in 1971. He stressed the importance of designing a menu in a way that would attract the customer’s attention and raise the odds of them selecting certain items over others.

Use bold typography, the colour red, or white space around an item to make it stand out. Marking something as “new”, “recommended” or “the chef’s special” can also help. Think about adding the words “for two” after any dish. It takes the pressure off in your kitchen and couples on a date will feel like they are receiving value for money.

But try not to overdo it and highlight one dish per category. Gallup, a management consulting company, found that patrons spent 109 seconds reading a menu. If you add too much on your menu or even on a single page, it might cause patrons to become frustrated.

Think of eye movement

The gaze motion theory addressed in a number of studies states that patrons scan menus in a zigzag way. That would make the upper-right corner of the menu the most viewed. In other words, it could be described as “the sweet spot”.

If we explore this concept further, you will find that different types of menus will have different effects on eye movements.

Menu design Area of most attention
One panel Top of the page
Two panel Top of the right-side panel
Three panel Top of the third panel
Many panels Top of each panel

These insights are based on menu engineering. Avoid displaying expensive items in these areas because it could make your restaurant seem overpriced.

Make dishes sound delicious

You have to make each dish sound as delicious as possible. Use descriptive words to pull this off. In this YouTube video clip, The absurd psychology of restaurant menus, it highlights the power of using the right words in menus. It demonstrates that even the use of a less delightful word does not obscure its alluring appeal:
Clumps of turkey in a bed of heavy tomato scum with softened rice poles

It still sounds delicious. This is what restaurants do to make less appealing dishes sound more delicious. Obviously, you won’t use the less delightful words, but it serves to illustrate its effectiveness.

Another great tactic is to use authentic terminology:
Tomato soup served with homemade Tuscan bread

Don’t underestimate the power of words. You can also use family titles such as Nonna’s Pasta e Fagioli.

Read our previous blog for more insightful menu tips and tricks.

The Restaurant Resource Group is a company that provides financial management and support services to restaurants. It calls a restaurant’s menu a “silent salesperson”.

According to Gregg Rapp, a menu engineer extraordinaire, if done correctly, it can increase your profits by about 15%.

Whatever method you choose, remember that when it comes to designing your menu, there’s always room for improvement, so test your new menu designs. To reach the peak of success in your startup restaurant, read our e-book, The definitive 21st-century restaurant playbook.

Author : Rudi Badenhorst