109 seconds. That’s how long your average guest spends studying the menu. You have all of two minutes to assure them that they’ve chosen the right restaurant - so your menu design, item descriptions, and menu configuration had better be up to the task. Below are a few important details to consider when designing your restaurant menu.
Dish names and descriptions are the heart of your menu, so phrasing that appeals to the senses is a must:
- Nostalgic. Sentimental language builds a powerful emotional connection with your guests. Using words like “traditional” and “homestyle” evokes warm memories of food and family.
- Appetizing. Descriptive menu labels such as “tender” and “succulent” enhance guest satisfaction with the meal. Incorporate geography into your menu selections (e.g. Maine Lobster Roll and Georgia Peach Pie) to make them sound more unique and inviting.
- Humanizing. Discuss the origins of a recipe, or share details about the chef or restaurant owner with your guests. Did your mother use this recipe? Is it a favorite dish from your childhood?
The design of your menu is as important as the information printed on it:
- Layout. Most guests scan their menu quickly - giving your items a brief time window to make a big impact. Create a menu that is simple to read with clear section headings, dish titles that are easy to find, and a legible format that isn’t too crowded.
- The Golden Triangle. When scanning a menu, our eyes typically move to the middle, then to the top right corner, then to the top left. These three areas should be home to your most profitable items.
- Materials. Menu materials should support your brand image. For an upscale restaurant, this means heavy paper and leather menu covers. A family-style establishment may use vinyl to communicate value for money.
Various menu layouts will create different guest reactions and affect your profitability differently. Here’s a list of typical menu configurations and their impact on your restaurant:
- One-panel. A single panel doesn’t evoke the full dining experience. Instead, it indicates something lighter and more casual. While having only one panel does encourage guests to select their menu items more quickly, they’re also likely to order less - resulting in lower profitability per guest.
- Two-panel. This is generally the best menu configuration to use, since it’s easy to read and imparts the emotion of the full dining experience.
- Three-panel. The three-panel menu is a sensible choice if you have so many items that you need the additional space, but this configuration is more difficult to read than the two-panel.
- Over three panels. Menus with more than three panels will likely hinder your ability to influence your guests’ actions. Since they should be able to view all of your menu items at once, anything more than a tri-fold is simply too big.
As the face of your food business, your menu is the one piece of free advertising that all of your guests will see. It is the heart and soul of your restaurant - combining your concept, personality, and dining options into a single coherent design.