A beautiful menu design has a large influence on the image and is dependant on the type of establishment. A menu in an elegant hotel differs greatly from a menu in a cafe. However despite their differences, many similarities in design technique and mechanising exist across the entire nourishment establishment industry.
Naming includes headers (appetisers, soups and main courses), sub headers (meat, seafood, special offers) and foremost dish names. A dishes name on the menu should be chosen with great care. Some establishments choose to have simple names while others prefer more complex though for a large proportion the most important quality is ease of pronunciation primarily to ensure customers avoid embarrassment. If a menu item is written in a foreign language then a transcription is usually placed nearby in the mother tongue. This helps guests, who don't know the foreign language as well as increasing sales. Photographs and pictures in the menu likewise have potential to be useful in overcoming language barriers.
A description informs guests on positions in the menu which helps increase sales. It normally incorporates main ingredients, important secondary ingredients and method of preparation. A description does not need to be as detailed as a recipe. Phrases should be selected so that they are easy to read but at the same time contain all key information. There is a large debate on the subject of description positioning within the menu. Special dishes deserve broad description because they help in determining the nature of a restaurant and contents of its kitchen. Complex appetisers and desserts, meat sleds and wine are all examples of places in a menu that require descriptions.
One of the reasons dish descriptions shouldn't overcrowd a menu is it leads to guests losing "intrigue" and subsequently disappointment. Other reasons include increased expenses and potential false information stemming from overly excessive use of descriptions. Here are some examples of where caution is advised:
- Accuracy: If the menu says breast meat then other pieces of meat should not be used.
- Freshness: If it says the product is fresh then it should not be canned, frozen or fresh-frozen.
- Geographical origin: A menu should not have incorrect information on the area of origin of any dish components.
- Preparation: The description should contain the exact method of preparation. Pensioners, people on special diets and guests who prefer to eat healthy are usually very interested in what method of preparation was used. If it says the dish is baked it cannot be fried.
- Portions: If a menu contains photographs of a plate with six prawns the establishment should offer exactly six prawns. As in the portions given should correspond as much as possible to the description in the menu.
The following is important information not concerning menu items. It includes general information: address, telephone, days and hours of operation and the question of reservations. Additionally it can have entertaining information such as: the restaurants history, a message from the managers to guests and maybe even the tableware used.
Once the menu itself has been decided upon it's time to create a layout, a model of how your menu should look like. This layout consists of a list of all menu items in their correct sequence, position of item names and descriptions on the page, the menu format, the correct paper to use and any artistic additions. Though the steps here are looked at individually, in reality layout decisions should be made concurrently as they are co-dependant.
The process of food consumption has a beginning, middle and end. If the establishment does not have separate menus for appetisers and desserts then dishes are normally laid out so:
- appetisers and soups
- main courses
Where other categories are placed, such as salads, sandwiches, drinks and so forth, depends on the type of establishment and opening hours. Salads can be with main courses for lunch or as snacks with dinner.
The order in which different points are within categories is usually determined by popularity and profitability. The most popular and profitable dishes tend to be placed so that guests can easily find them. Many methods exist to attract attention to certain menu items:
- Positioning at the top
- Visual distinction - larger font or underlining
- Placing in the centre
- Use of photographs
- Attention grabbing artwork placed close by
- Placing on a separate page
Once the order of items in the menu has been decided upon, the menu designer and planning team can move on to discussing a rough model of the menu and creating a grid pattern. Sufficient space should be left for marketing information. It's very important not to "overload" menus. Many designers prefer to use the "free space" method which helps direct customer eyes to specific places in the menu.
Format includes menu size, shape and overall appearance. There are many menu formats out there and each restaurant should choose one itself.
Menu size should be thought through carefully (table size at the establishment has a direct relation with menu size). During menu format creation the following factors should be taken into account:
If there ends up being too many objects on a menu after having decided on a menu the following steps should be taken:
- delete some items from the list
- shorten the descriptions
- choose a larger format
If on the other hand there results a lack of objects to occupy menu space you could:
- add items to the menu
- use more space for artistic elements, descriptions
- use the "white space" method which entails isolating certain menu objects by leaving blank space around them for emphasis
- substitute the current format for a smaller one
Some establishments that want to give off an air of relaxation and comfort like to use a handwritten menu. However most menus use print. Much depends on font including how well your guests can understand dish descriptions.
Text can be different sizes but the accepted unwritten rule is that text should never be smaller than 12-pt. Line spacing should likewise not be too small. The easiest to read menus have dark text on a light background. Similarly all CAPS is difficult on the eyes and lower-case letters should also be used. Headers and sub headers should be the only lines written in only capital letters.
Every font has its own characteristics and so establishments should choose fonts that fit into their overall styles and the atmosphere they are trying to create. It should be noted that text that is hard to make out, excessively slanted (italicised) or too narrow is difficult to read which can lead to loss of orders and profits.
Artistic elements include drawings, photographs, decorative items and borders whose function is to draw attention, provide diversity. For menu design, artistic additions should correspond and emphasise the establishment's chosen style and atmosphere. There is only one way to make a design work for you and that is to use it everywhere; on cards, receipts, napkins, letters and posters.
Guests touch the menu repeatedly, hold it in their hands for prolonged periods while deciding on their order. The type of paper used has an effect on how patrons will perceive your establishment just as any design choice.
There are numerous different types of paper. Its texture varies from rough to silky smooth and of course it can be any colour. There is not rule saying a menu must be white, most important is that its easy to read.
You can and should experiment with several different types of paper for your menu. Pages can be prepared with foil (this involves a thin layer of foil being applied over the paper itself), be embossed which allows for protruding drawings or laminated. Lamination is used to protect the menu from various contaminants. Likewise, it is not absolutely necessary to use an A4 format. As was stated previously, children's menus for example can be shaped into nearly any form even to the point of using cartoon characters from popular shows as a base.
Correctly deciding on what paper to use depends on how often your menus will be used. If a menu is only to be used once per day and then thrown out it can be printed on cheap paper. If, however, a menu will be used longer then a water-resistant paper should be chosen. All menus should be printed on one type of paper, the cover should be dense made from either a different, thicker paper, leather or some other material.
Many menu formats come with special covers. A well-designed cover speaks volumes of the image, style, kitchen and price levels of an establishment. The restaurants name is ordinarily located on the cover and more often than not is the only object there. Select menus also have basic information such as address, telephone number and opening times but these elements are generally located on the back covers. The Cover is the most important part of a menu which is responsible for decor. Colour should coincide with that of the overall colour scheme of the restaurant.
Common errors in menu design
- The menu format is too small. An over saturated menu is usually unattractive and is ineffective as an instrument of sale as it will be hard to read.
- Text is too small. Small text is difficult to read. All the the more so as certain establishments have dim lighting. A customer will not order something they cannot read.
- No description or the description does not correspond to reality. Sometimes an item's name is not enough to inspire a guest and encourage them to order. Correct use of descriptions will lead to increased sales.
- Every menu item is printed identically. Designers should utilise positioning, borders, colour, decorative edges, large fonts and other design decisions to attract attention to most profitable and best-selling dishes. If all menu items look exactly the same then dishes that you most want to sell will not stand out from the mass.
- Let out items. Certain establishments leave out items from their menus. A guest should be able to see everything that is available in terms of food and drink. If they can't see it they won't know it exists and can't order it.
- Problems with additional separate sheets. If an establishment chooses to have page inserts should leave a space in their menu for them to ensure that no important items are hidden behind the insert. Insert pages themselves should mimic the style and quality of the rest of the menu.
- Important information about the establishment is not included.
- Empty pages. Empty pages in a menu serve no purpose. The back cover of most menus is often left blank even though the back menu draws the attention of some visitors and is therefore it is a good design decision to have contact information located there.