In the restaurant industry, a menu is a list of food and beverage offerings. But a good, well-thought-out and properly designed menu functions at a much higher level. Through themes, structure, and presentation, it invites customers to a sensory and emotional experience.
Menus vary in length and detail depending on the type of restaurant. There are two main types of menus. An a la carte menu gives the patron the option to choose from a list of items. A multi-course meal, or table d'hote menu, allows the patron to choose from a pre-established sequence of courses.
What a Menu Tells the Customer
Menus are a way to communicate the attributes of the establishment to the customer. A well-designed menu invites the customer to experience what the establishment wishes to convey. Fine dining restaurants will often emphasize the source of the food, how it was prepared, and bring attention to exotic ingredients. It may add French or other foreign language expressions to make the dishes appear exotic or sophisticated. This is all done in an effort to impress customers with the idea that the dishes served require skill, specialized equipment and high-quality ingredients. Casual restaurants sometimes use "off-menu" or "secret menu" items to lure customers. These establishments will prepare variations on menu items that are already available. If they become popular, they travel by word of mouth. Fast-food restaurants tend to focus on value, such as combination meals at a low price point. They tend to use pictures rather than words to convey their food offerings.
Best Practices When Designing a Menu
- Choose a theme. The color scheme and font choice should reflect the style of the restaurant. For a fine dining establishment, dark, rich colors convey elegance and professionalism. A casual restaurant may use warm or muted colors as they look inviting. A trending restaurant with a younger clientele may choose bold, bright colors.
- Place information logically. The items on the menu should appear in the order in which the patrons eat the dishes being offered. For example, an all-day establishment would list breakfast, lunch, appetizers, dinner, dessert, and beverages. Depending on the size of the menu, it may be practical to break the menu into sections. Use main sections (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and then break them into subsections (beef, poultry, fish, and vegetarian).
- Include details of each dish. It's important to indicate clearly which menu item belongs to which description and price. The easiest way is to write the information using columns (dish, description, price). Ensure that there is a wide variety of price points on the menu. Consider including diet-specific dishes specifically for vegetarians, vegans, kids, low-calorie or heart-healthy diets. This will satisfy a larger number of customers.