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How to Decide Your Restaurant’s Menu

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Designing a menu is one of the most challenging tasks new restaurants face. Between choosing the right foods and making appropriate style changes, the margin for error can be razor-thin. 

Here are some guidelines to make sure you cover all the essential details and create a well-rounded, visually appealing menu.

Selecting the Menu Items

Quality over quantity is the key to deciding your menu items. A cluttered menu with a wide array of choices is inconvenient to the customer. On the flip side, a concise menu with limited options makes the ordering process easier. The food items you select should also fit the following criteria:

  • Fresh ingredients
  • Consistently priced
  • In high demand
  • Available year-round
  • Easily stored
  • Consistent preparation time and process

These traits cover the fundamentals of good business: quality of the product and service, consistent supply and demand, easy production and streamlined distribution. They will naturally narrow down your list of menu item options, making it easier for you to decide what to include and what to leave out.

  1. Write Everything Down

Designing a menu starts by writing everything down in an easily digestible format. Spreadsheets work best for some, while a simple pen and paper work better for others. You don’t have to write in any particular order at this stage. This is a brainstorming session where you can let your imagination roam.

  1. Categorize the Items

Once you have a complete list of items, you can separate them into their respective categories: appetizer, breakfast, sandwiches, entrees and beverages. As you go through this process, identify the items that may be most popular and make them the focal points of each category. If you think a specific entree will be your top seller, put it toward the top. 

  1. Use Relative Pricing

Assign reasonable prices to each item after categorizing everything. One psychological trick you can use is grouping the cheapest/least popular dishes close to the most expensive items. Customers will be more likely to order the inexpensive dishes, giving your profits a nice boost.

Designing the Menu

Once you nail down the logistics of your menu, you can focus on the design. The menu should display your food and beverage items in a visually pleasing yet readable manner that matches the building’s overall style.

  1. Choose an Appropriate Layout

You want to organize your menu’s layout so customers’ eyes gravitate toward specific areas. This strategy, known as the golden triangle, puts your items in the three areas people are most likely to look:

  • Middle: Place your special dishes and limited items here.
  • Top right: Place your entrees and main courses here.
  • Top left: Put your appetizers and light dishes here.

You can also split things up into more subcategories depending on your variety of dishes. For example, a pizza parlor could split its most popular entrees into pizza, wings and sandwich sections. Here are some other tips you should keep in mind when creating the layout:

  • Give desserts and special drink selections their separate menus. This will help make your appetizers and less popular beverages more profitable.
  • Dedicate a section of your menu to vegan/vegetarian options.
  • Highlight your daily specials and other essential items with boxes, arrows or other tools to catch the reader’s eye.

A standard menu should be two to four pages long and have adequate spacing between items. Each section should have its own heading, and the placement of each entry should have some strategy or significance behind it.

  1. Adopt Your Restaurant’s Theme

Your menu needs to inherit your restaurant’s theme and persona. Upscale establishments should have a minimalist style with a long-handed font. Restaurants specializing in ethnic foods should incorporate designs and symbols from those cultures into the menu.

There’s no rhyme or reason to this process. Whenever you prepare to make a style change, simply ask yourself, “Does this fit my restaurant?” and go from there. The changes should naturally come if you have a clear vision of your theme and target audience.

  1. Use a Fun Color Scheme

The color scheme you choose can make or break the menu and potentially impact your customers’ appetites. Research shows that red, orange and yellow invoke the feeling of hunger, while cool shades tend to stifle cravings. While that information is helpful, you should aim to match the colors with your restaurant’s theme.

When everything matches, customers can become more immersed in the restaurant’s atmosphere and feel enticed to browse the menu more thoroughly.

  1. Add Unique Descriptions

A well-written product description can convince customers to step out of their comfort zones and try new things, so you must put care and detail into each item. Give some love to each ingredient so the reader can completely immerse themselves in the dish and visualize themselves eating it. Here are some things you can do to draw in the reader:

  • Use vivid imagery and a wide range of vocabulary.
  • Make the font of your menu items larger than the price.
  • Use uppercase and bolded letters for the items and lowercase for the descriptions.
  • Remove all dollar signs so the reader is less concerned about cost.
  • Increase or decrease the font size according to your target audience. 

You want the reader to taste and feel the dish before ordering it. However, the written word can only pull this feat off to a certain extent.

  1. Utilize Images

Images will give your customers the clearest possible idea of what your dishes look like. However, you should use them strategically and place them in certain areas of the menu. Too many pictures create clutter and may overwhelm the reader. As a general rule, you should use two or three high-quality photos for each page and assign them to your most popular menu items.

Trust the Process of Designing a Menu

Designing a menu is more complicated than meets the eye, but you can simplify the process by breaking it down into manageable steps. Most importantly, always keep the customer in mind.

Author Bio: Oscar Collins is the managing editor at Modded, where he writes about food, fitness and more. Follow him on Twitter @TModded for frequent updates of his work.

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