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Design for better business: The art & science of menu design

March 19, 2018

Your restaurant’s food and drink menu should get customers salivating.

But it should do more than simply present a utilitarian list of dishes. Daily specials and wait staff recommendations can only influence customers so much. But a well-designed menu can subtly steer diners to more profitable options.

Implement some of these restaurant menu design tactics to optimize your business results.

It’s a material world

Restaurant customers mainly use the senses of taste and smell to take in information about your eatery, but they also rely on touch as well. From the moment a menu is placed in a diner’s hands, the material it’s printed on conveys a message. High-end restaurants use fabric, leather, or thick paper to communicate that their dishes are of high quality (and worth the money they cost). A quick-serve restaurant may use vinyl or thin card stock to say that menu options represent a good deal.

Once you decide on a material to use for your menu, utilize Clover Online’s Pro Plan to import a menu template or build one from scratch using the platform’s customizable menu feature.

click or tap the image for source

Tap into emotions

People subconsciously respond to color in emotional ways. Red and blue can help trigger appetites, so consider using one or both on your menus if they fit the décor and vibe of your eatery. Bright shades of these colors communicate a sense of Americana and patriotism, so they’re perfect to use at BBQ and other restaurants serving American food. Blue is particularly appropriate for seafood restaurants to use since it makes one think of the ocean, while red is a natural fit for Italian cucinas and pizza places.

People associate the color green with healthy options, so it’s a great option if you own a grab-and-go salad joint or juice bar.

Bright colors, however, may be difficult to use on menus at fine dining establishments. If your restaurant offers a sophisticated dining experience, consider printing your menu in a neutral color, like brown, black, or even white.

Choices, choices, choices

Or not. It may sound counterintuitive to today’s culture that emphasizes customization, but giving diners a limited number of choices is good for business. Restaurant owners should keep in mind “the paradox of choice” when designing their menu. It states that the more options consumers have, the more anxiety they feel. Seven dishes in each section of your menu (appetizers, main dishes, desserts) give diners options without overwhelming them.

click or tap the image for source

It’s all in the layout

How you describe your dishes is important. (More on that later.) But customers rarely, if ever, read a menu word for word. Eatery owners should be deliberate in the presentation of dishes on their menu —whether using individual cards or a menu board behind the counter — to encourage customers to take the most profitable path when ordering.

Diners’ gaze naturally goes to the center of a menu before traveling to the upper right corner and then to the upper left corner. Menu engineers encourage restaurateurs to place items with the highest profit margins in this “Golden Triangle” area. Highlight these dishes: Refer to them as a “Chef’s special,” place a box around them or include a photo or drawing of the food. One study found that showcasing images on a digital menu board prompted customers to order more salads. The Menu Boards app integrates directly with Clover POS systems and easily enables merchants to create a digital menu — no tech or graphic design experience necessary.

click or tap the image for source

The Golden Triangle isn’t the only area to area to feature cost-effective dishes. Customers subconsciously prefer the first two and the last item in each menu section. Design yours so that it features dishes in these slots that are friendlier to your bottom dollar.

If you have one item that’s significantly more expensive than anything else on your menu, feature it near the top or even in the Golden Triangle area. Diners will look at it first, then move on and think that everything else on the menu is reasonably priced.

Looks matter

It’s not enough to use a smart design or the right colors on your menu. Successful eatery owners have menus featuring stylish graphic embellishments as well. Experts refer to these decorative graphics, frames, and even typography as “eye magnets.” The clever elements draw diners’ eyes to particular menu items and help them navigate the menu in a way that’s advantageous to your profits. For instance, dotted lines can lead customers from appetizer to entrée to dessert sections. Or, a colored box or small illustration placed to the side can make a dish stand out on a simple menu design.

The power of words

The words that you use can entice diners to splurge. Detailed write-ups that utilize descriptive adjectives to communicate specifics about a dish make a customer “taste” the food before it arrives at their table. Appetizing descriptions also make diners feel like they’re getting more bang for their buck.

Instead of saying what type of chocolate is used in your brownies, state where it’s sourced from. Same goes for the fancy coffee beans that you use to make your house brew. If the bread used to make your sandwiches is made locally or is organic, make note of those facts.

click for source: design by Passport Design Bureau

Don’t forget pricing

Reducing the cost of a meal isn’t the only thing you can do to make food appear more alluring. Savvy restaurateurs banish the dollar sign and the word “dollars” from their menus. Their inclusion reminds diners of the pain of spending money. Plus, a 2009 study found that customers spend more at restaurants with menus that excluded both the symbol and the word.

You can also make prices less conspicuous by printing them immediately following a dish’s description. List them in a neat column will lead customers to focus solely on the numbers, instead of the dish itself.


Clover is sold by leading U.S. banks including Bank of America, BBVA, Citi, PNC, Sun Trust and Wells Fargo. You’ll also find Clover at our trusted partners including Ignite Payments, Restaurant Depot, and Sam’s Club. For more information, visit us at clover.com.