The Art of Designing a Great Menu

Menu design has come a long way since the days that dictated the top right corner to be the hot spot on the menu, or that it be more than three pages long, or that you had to ‘clip’ the day’s specials to the front.

Designing an innovative, concise menu is truly an art form, but there are so many tools (and tricks!) you can utilize to attract guests to the items and areas you want to highlight, it’s not the daunting task it may seem to be.

Fresh off nearly a year of menu design and development for the opening of DC restaurant consulting client Farmers Fishers Bakers (FFB) in November 2012, VSAG’s Dan Simons and his team were featured in a Washington City Paper article, where he offered his take on menu development and the ‘magic’ behind it all.

Part of the formatting process he says, begins with drawing a big “X” on the page. “You want to save the corners and the center as the ‘sweet spots,’ says Dan. “For example, since sushi plays a big part of the FFB menu, we put it in a prime menu position: The upper left corner – with a box around it – to really make it stand out.”

Another great tip: Incorporating all main dishes into one combined menu. For example, FFB originally had a separate ‘meatless’ vegetarian and vegan-focused menu, but by including the top ‘meatless’ dishes on the main menu (and giving them a prime spot on the bottom right corner), diners have all lunch/dinner offerings on one page – a concise main menu – and guests that are not necessarily vegetarian/vegan instantly became interested in these offerings he says … and sales of those dishes jumped 500 percent!

Price points are also a great focal point. Try leading off a section with the lowest priced items, since first impressions always count. Or another option: Omit dollar signs to call less attention to the price; instead list only the price/number in a smaller font or off to the side. And, use only whole numbers to make it easier to track and enter into your POS.

Lastly, what to do about those ‘Specials?’ Since it’s most cost effective to print menus that feature all consistent menu items at once, have servers inform guests of specials verbally. To ensure staff is well versed on specials, have managers review the features with servers prior to shifts, so any and all questions can be addressed right away – and not while guests are waiting to place an order.

To recap: Highlight sections with prime spots; use boxes or columns; include interesting/informative dish descriptions; use bold text/colors, varying font sizes and the like to get attention … all to your advantage. In the end, if designed correctly – a menu will keep your guest interested, help them make a good decision, and keep your top margin items moving and keep guests coming back for more!