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How Restaurant Menus Make You Buy Food

How Restaurant Menus Make You Buy Food

Read Time: 5 Minutes


24 May 2017

A well-designed menu can be an incredibly powerful marketing tool. Like any other piece of print, your menu should describe your restaurant’s personality and values through its design, but also go into detail about each of your products and tempt your customers into choosing your best and most profitable of options. We looked into the psychology of menu design to find out how to put together a successful menu and inspire your customers to buy more…

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The colours used on a menu can make a great impression on the customer. In our previous blog post, The Importance of Colour in Marketing we discuss the way different colours can evoke emotion in the viewer and how to use this to your potential. For example, the colour red can be used to stimulate appetite, and the colour green can be associated with healthy options. Although your branding may already have a colour scheme, it would be useful to consider the emotional impact of these colours and analyse how they will work within the menu.

Colour can also be used to highlight a specific dish that you would like to promote or to group a selection of dishes together. Perhaps you have a vegetarian or healthy section to your menu, this can be easily identified to the customer by outlining in green.


As discussed in our previous blog post, The Psychology of Typography, the font you use in your marketing materials can say a lot about the sort of business you run. The font used in your menu design should be consistent with your other marketing materials and should suggest the type of atmosphere and food your customers can expect. Note that certain fonts suggest distinctive characteristics – for example, a script style font can be associated with luxurious brands.

It is also important to ensure that your menu is easy to read. Overly styled lettering can detract from the dish itself and make it hard for your customer to understand what they are ordering. Opt for a simple, easy to read font for the dishes, and experiment with more styled lettering in your headings.


The layout of a menu can help to guide your customer’s eyes around the page, making their selection easier and drawing attention to your signature dish. Generally speaking, when presented with a menu we will not read every option from top to bottom,

The layout of a menu can help to guide your customer’s eyes around the page, making their selection easier and drawing attention to your signature dish. Generally speaking, when presented with a menu we will not read every option from top to bottom, instead, we quickly sweep over the page, before going back to look in more detail. We may identify the headings in the initial scan, e.g. ‘burgers, salads, pizzas’ and then go back with a vague idea of what we would like to order.

A study into the typical eye movement over a menu revealed that we tend to look in the centre of the menu first, then over to the top right corner, across to the left and then diagonally down to the bottom. Consequently, the centre of the menu is scanned over more than once. It is useful to consider this eye movement when laying out your menu and drawing attention to particular dishes. You can also draw the eye away from this usual movement by accentuating certain sections or dishes with a larger font, or distinct colour.

In addition to this, studies show that people can more accurately recall the first and last item on a list – this is called The Serial Position Effect. Therefore, placing your most profitable dishes in the first and the last places your customer will look may help them to stick in their mind.

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Pricing strategy is an art in itself, and the price range you choose for your dishes should be relevant to both the market you are targeting and the quality of the food you serve. However, displaying a certain dish on your menu at a higher price than the rest can cause customers to view it as a luxury option. Customers who are celebrating or looking to treat themselves will often opt or the higher priced dish. In addition to the higher price, you can make this option stand out to them with an extra-long description and contrasting colour or outline.

Many restaurants choose to remove the £ symbol from their menus entirely in order to make the customer forget that they are spending money. There has also been a recent trend towards rounding a price up or down to remove the decimal point – making the menu look simpler and neater. For example, a simple ‘£9’ is somehow easier on the eye than ‘£9.00’.


Many menus are now opting to give fewer options so as not to out-face their customers. When given a lot of options we often feel confused and struggle to make a decision. This may be based on the psychological theory ‘The Paradox of Choice’ which states that the more choices we are faced with, the more anxious we feel. Therefore, if we want our customers to feel relaxed and make their decision quickly, we should be careful not to go overboard with the options. However, if presented with too few choices we may not find an option that we want. As a rule of thumb, a great menu should prioritise quality over quantity.


How the menu feels in your customer’s hands will cause them to subconsciously draw conclusions about the restaurant – the food, the quality, and the overall experience. Therefore, consider your paper choice carefully. Perhaps you are starting a fast-food restaurant where customers will not expect luxury menus. However, if your restaurant is more high-end, a high-quality paper is a must. Much like the visual design, the feel of the paper should fit with your branding.

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The Ten Commandments

Allen Kelson, a renowned restaurant consultant, wrote the Ten Commandments for Restaurant Menus back in 1994. While trends have moved forward, the principle of these commandments are still relevant and would be useful to review when designing your own menu. Allen Kelson’s commandments read as follows;

  1. Speak plainly – Use words that people can understand.
  2. Say what’s important – Mention anything unique about the dish. This is the time to show your dishes off! Ensure you detail what makes the meal special.
  3. Do not be afraid to be descriptive – Use descriptive works to help the customer to imagine the dish.
  4. Say it correctly – Be as accurate as possible
  5. Less is more – Keep descriptions brief but enticing
  6. Maintain a sense of perspective – Recommend only two or three options per category
  7. Spell it properly – Always check for spelling and grammar mistakes. Make sure these are ironed out before your menu goes to print. There’s nothing worse than 500 menus all with the same typo.
  8. Describe accompaniments – Descriptions should support the main item – but keep the descriptions
  9. Punctuate properly – Use hyphenated compound adjectives.
  10. Follow the rules of typography – Use the appropriate typeface, colour and size to suit your brand.

In summary, a great menu will show who you are as a company while acting as a showcase to entice your customer with your scrumptious dishes. Consider your layout and colour scheme carefully and you may see a big boost in sales of your signature dish.

We hope that this blog post has given you some guidance and inspiration on how to design a menu for your own restaurant. Still need some more inspiration? Check out our post on 25 Menu Designs You’ll Want to Steal. Or go ahead and get printing today.

Have any menu design tips that you’d like to share? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

Jennie Talbot

About the Author

Hi! I’m Jennie, and I’m the Creative Lead at instantprint. I love using my design knowledge to inspire small businesses to think outside the box when designing their print.