July 12019

Menu Design Tips

10 ways to get your menus to sell more stuff

Tweaking your menu can make your business more money at no extra cost.

Regardless of your menu's format, whether it's handed out by servers in your restaurant, or on a chalkboard hanging on the wall of your cafe, these menu design tips will apply to you.

It's easy to dismiss the psychological aspects of menu design as trivial. But remember, your menu is essentially advertising, and that's a whole industry devoted to the science of getting you to buy more stuff.


Remove Currency Symbols

Removing the currency symbols from your menu increases customer spending. It seems that any mention of money makes people more price conscious.1

A study from The Center for Hospitality Research showed an “8.15% increase in average spending per person2 when the menu prices had their currency symbol removed. It’s worth noting the same study also experimented with using a scripted currency format, i.e., “7 Dollars,” and found it had the same effect on spending as using the $ sign.

1. Priceless - William Poundstone | 2. $ or Dollars: Effects of Menu-price Formats on Restaurant Checks - Sybil S. Yang, Sheryl E. Kimes Ph.D, Mauro M. Sessarego

Don't use Leader Dots

Avoid using leader dots to guide customers eyes from menu items to their prices. Prices should always be clearly visible, but using leader dots unnecessarily draws attention.

"A diner who orders based on price is not a profitable diner"1

Don't do this............................$9

1. Priceless - William Poundstone - p161

Price Anchoring Items

Placing an expensive item in a prominent position on your menu will make the others seem more reasonably priced. Some restaurants have gone so far as selling $100 hamburgers or a "$1000 caviar and lobster omelet" and to achieve this effect1. But it can be done without being silly. 

Many restaurants display sharing platters or a fancy house special in pride of place. Items that are expensive, but for good reasons.

The effects of anchoring are powerful and complex. It has been shown to make people willing to pay more even when the anchor is just a random high number, unrelated to the price of anything.2

1. Priceless - William Poundstone | 2. Anchoring Effects on Consumers' Willingness-to-Pay and Willingness-to-Accept - Itamar Simonson, Aimee Drolet

Organize Prices in Semi-Descending Order

Arranging your menu items to trend downwards in price means your high ticket items are the first to be seen and subtly engage the anchoring effect. Make sure customers don't spot the pattern and choose their meal based on price by staggering the order.

E.G. 10 - 8 - 9 - 4 - 5 - 2 - 3 - 1

1. Priceless - William Poundstone

Don't List Prices in Columns

Listing prices in a column turns your menu into a price list.1 Customers will use the list to pick the cheapest items, choosing based on price and not on their desire for, say, pork dumplings.

Using center-aligned  or left-aligned  text with the prices at the end will fix this, staggering their positions. Allowing items labeled with long descriptions to take up an extra line, enhances this effect.

1. Priceless - William Poundstone -p161


Use Heavy Paper

If you're running a business that uses paper menus. Consider printing them on heavy paper. It has been shown to increase perceptions of service quality.

This effect instinctively feels right, but has also been studied.1

1. The influences of restaurant menu font style, background color, and physical weight on consumers’ perceptions - Vincent P. Magnini Seontaik Kim

Use Descriptive Menu Labels

A study conducted in the University of Illinois Cafeteria measured customers' behavior towards dishes that had descriptive labels against dishes that did not.1 Purchases of items with descriptive labels increased by 27%. Also, customers rated these dishes as higher quality, value for money, and their intent to purchase them again.

Descriptions were used "sparingly and appropriately" and fell into three categories, "Geographical," "Affective," and "Sensory." Some examples of these types of descriptions can be seen below.

1. Descriptive Menu Labels’ Effect on Sales - Brian Wansink, James Painter, Koert Van Ittersum

Use a Large Font Size

A large font size makes it easier to read the menu and accommodates customers who have poor eyesight. This is a good practice. But there is another, subtler benefit to making your menu's text more legible.

A hard-to-read font causes cognitive strain, or in other words, makes people think harder about the text. Whereas an easy-to-read font has the opposite effect, cognitive ease, intuition kicks in, thoughts become lazy.

“A sentence written in a clear font, or has been repeated, or has been primed, will be fluently processed with cognitive ease.

— Daniel Kahneman1

Reading a menu should be intuitive and easy, allowing customers to go with their gut.

1. Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman - Cognitive Ease - p65

Box Profitable Items

"A box around a menu item draws attention and, usually, orders."1

This is a classic tactic. Not only does it draw attention to the item, but it also suggests to the customer that it's a popular item. The color red can add a sense of urgency. Green, can denote a healthy or vegetarian option.

1. Priceless - William Poundstone - p163

Use Pictures of Food?!

One effective way of selling profitable items is by showing photographs of them. But, you may lose your street cred, potential customers and any hope of a Michelin Star.

"Photographs of food are among the most powerful motivators and also one of the most inflexible menu taboos."1

There is, however, a workaround for this. Instead of using photographs, use illustrations. Here are some great examples of illustrations being used to draw attention to menu items:


It may be taboo, but some restaurants do a fantastic job of using photographs on their menus, here are a few more examples:

El Kapan

1. Priceless - William Poundstone

That's all of the menu design tips. If you have any suggestions you'd like to add, let us know.

Found any of this useful? Then share it with your local restaurants.

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