couple looking at menu, man and woman

How Menu Design Can Increase Sales and Customer Loyalty

Gallup reports that restaurant customers spend less than two minutes looking at the menu.1 That means you have less than two minutes to communicate an abundance of information to your guests, including concept, price range, type of food served and general ambience.

Think of the menu as a visual representation of your brand. It introduces guests to your offerings and should reflect the overall philosophy and values of your establishment. The psychology of menu design should not be underestimated—in fact, a well-designed menu can consistently increase profits by as much as $1,000 per month, per million dollars in annual revenue.2

Use these tips to increase the efficacy of your menu and watch profits rise.

1. Perfect the Look

Your menu is a direct reflection of your business. For printed versions, choose high-quality, matte-finish paper and consider lamination to protect against tears, stains, and general wear and tear.2 The last thing you want is worn and dirty menus—it makes customers wonder about the cleanliness of the rest of the restaurant.

Digital menu boards—which have a return on investment that is, on average, 28 percent higher than static menu boards2 —should also be kept clean and streak-free, and feature colorful artwork of high-profit and/or LTO items. If it fits with your restaurant’s concept, you might also consider chalkboard menus or menus made from nontraditional materials like wood or metal. Finally, don’t forget to post your menu online via your website and menu/review sites such as MenuPix and Allmenus.

2. Place Menu Items Strategically

Menu design directly influences guests’ purchasing decisions. In fact, you can increase sales without changing a single menu item or price. Choose a menu format—typically one-page, two-page or three-panel—then use sales concentration techniques to guide eyes toward the most profitable items. For example, a single-page menu should list signature items and house specialties on the top half of the page, while a three-panel menu would list those items in the top right corner.3 Use eye magnets like text “frames,” shading and color to draw attention to high-profit items.

3. Emphasize Ingredients, Not Prices

Consumers are increasingly concerned with health, caloric and allergen information, so make sure this data is clear and accessible to guests right on the menu. If possible, list all ingredients in every dish and align prices unobtrusively with the rest of the text so they are not the first thing guests see when scanning the menu.4 Emphasizing ingredients keeps the focus on the food and provides valuable information to diners without them having to ask. Most importantly, don’t attempt to write the menu yourself—invest in a knowledgeable copywriter who can add interest and pizzazz to the wording.2

4. Highlight Premium Menu Items and Animal Welfare Practices

Consumers are interested in the stories behind their food, from where the produce is sourced to the treatment of animals on the farms where they were raised. Since menu items that contain premium ingredients typically demand higher pricing, emphasize protein options like No Antibiotics Ever chicken and turkey whenever possible. Hormone-free, organic and free-range are other powerful buzzwords that give consumers a reference point for food standards. If your restaurant is making a push for sustainability or supporting local farmers, be sure to highlight that on your menu.

The most effective menus not only increase profits, they provide important information to the consumer such as ingredient lists that can alert diners to potential allergens, and opportunities to make more sustainable choices with their dollars. They also serve as a calling card for your business, allowing guests to see what your establishment is about at a glance. A properly designed menu is one of the best investments restaurant owners can make—make sure it receives the thought and attention it deserves.

1DocuMart, Restaurant Menu Design: Common Menu Mistakes, 11/17/2016

2Aaron Allen & Associates, 20 Most Common Restaurant Menu Design Mistakes, 8/10/2016

3Pavesic, Dave, The Psychology of Menu Design: Reinvent Your ‘Silent Salesperson’ to Increase Check Averages and Guest Loyalty (downloadable PDF), Hospitality Faculty Publications, 2/2005

4Upserve Restaurant Insider, 7 Restaurant Menu Mistakes That Stop Guests In Their Tracks, 7/11/2011