Customer Success

How To Design The Perfect Menu: A 5-point checklist

Here's the recipe to design the perfect menu, the kind that leverages consumer psychology and design principles to take your restaurant's sales to another level.

Diners spend an average of a mere 109 seconds on the one thing that could define their entire evening – the menu of a restaurant. In under 2 minutes, diners have typically made the decision that will largely define how their meal plays out. Restaurant owners have to create a menu that propels customers to order the most profitables dishes in the short time they’re going to spend on the menu. But how?

That’s exactly what you will learn in this blog - the recipe to design the perfect menu, the kind that will boost your restaurant’s profits and sales and make your customers happy at the same time.

We’ve condensed our entire research into 5 simple steps that take into account human psychology, consumer habits, industry trends, and design principles to offer you everything you need to know to be able to design the perfect menu. Let’s jump right in!


  1. What Is Menu Design And Why Should You Care About It?
  2. Core Menu Design Principles
  3. Tips & Tricks To Design The Perfect Menu For Restaurants 
  4. Steps To Design the perfect menu For Restaurants
  5. How To Get Started?

What Is Menu Design And Why Should You Care About It?

Menu design, also known as menu engineering and menu psychology, is the framework used to optimize a restaurant menu to build a profitable restaurant business.

It leverages customer psychology to design a menu that encourages customers to purchase items that can yield a restaurant the maximum profit.

The fundamental goal of menu engineering is to boost the profitability of your restaurant business. It enables you to persuade people to make the purchases you want them to.

Core Menu Design Principles

While there is no set rulebook delineating the principles of menu design, there are a few widely agreed-upon principles that you must follow to be able to design the perfect menu for your restaurant.

Here are 5 menu design principles:

  1. A menu should be concise
  2. A menu should be easy to navigate
  3. A menu should be easy to understand
  4. A menu should incorporate reader’s psychology
  5. A menu should deploy language to evoke emotions

Tips & Tricks To Design The Perfect Menu For Restaurants 

1. Rule Of Seven

The rule of seven suggests that no more than seven items should be listed on the front of your menu. You don’t want to overwhelm diners with too many options and make it hard for them to come to a decision. Instead, you want to make it as easy for them to order as many menu items as possible. Applying the rule of seven allows you to achieve that.

You should also consider the number of dishes that you can actually make well and that can offer you the kind of profit margins your business needs.

2. Color Psychology

Different colors motivate different behavior. For instance, blue is a very soothing color and is often used to create a calming effect. Yellow, on the other hand, draws our attention and red stimulates the appetite. Experts say that red and yellow combined are the best food coloring pairings.

3. Portion Size Bracketing 

Include two portion sizes for a single dish without specifying a specific serving size. The price for the "bigger" size will be higher, like INR 1000, while the price for the "smaller" size will appear to be lower, like INR 400. The customer won’t know exactly how much smaller the small portion is, yet it will still seem to be the best value price, since it simply costs less.

In reality, the “smaller” portion can be the one you wanted to sell the whole time, and this tactic makes the meal item more attractive because guests will feel they are choosing a dish with good value.

Steps To Design The Perfect Menu

Step 1 - Narrow Down Dishes For Your Menu
Create Great Content For Your Menu

Content lies at the heart of your menu. Regardless of how aesthetically pleasing your menu is, if customers don’t enjoy its content, they’re unlikely to return to your restaurant. Here’s exactly what you need to do to create great content for your menu:

• Build a foundation with core items

A selection of core items that you can depend on to drive sales throughout the year is the first piece of the puzzle you must work on. Think about the dishes that diners always crave. You can’t possibly go wrong with these dishes and they’ll help build a steady customer base. This would build the essence or foundation of your menu, something you could rely on to keep your orders flowing in.

• Step up your game with unique selling points

Since relying only on traditional dishes is not enough in a competitive market, you must include a few unique dishes in your menu that can act as a big draw for customers who look for new, interesting dishes and can also help you differentiate your menu from the competition.

• Complete the menu with other dishes and take out your scissors!

Add dishes, drinks, and everything else that you’d like to offer to your customers. Once done, begin removing dishes that you think wouldn’t be desirable or profitable enough for your business. With this, you would have prepared the main content of your menu.

Of course, you’d want to add the dish descriptions next, but hold on, something more important is about to show up next.

Step 2 - Categorize & Organize Your Menu 

If you aren’t capitalizing on known facts about customer psychology, you are missing out on a lot of free money! While each customer can be different, there are a plethora of common behaviors, biases, and responses that drive customers. You can deploy those commonalities to your advantage by organizing your restaurant’s menu strategically. Here are some actionable tips:

• Use the menu design matrix

To organize your menu strategically, begin by categorizing the dishes on your menu into the following four categories (refer to image)

Stars (Top right) - High in profitability as well as popularity, Stars are your best bets. You want sell as many of these dishes as possible. These dishes would command the most prominent spaces on your menu and take precedence over all other dishes in terms of promotions. 

Plow horses (Top left) - Low in profitability but high in popularity, Plow Horses are items that generate a huge amount of sales for your restaurant (but not a huge percentage of profit.) Naturally, these items would not be your first preference when deciding which dishes to highlight most prominently on your menu. However, these dishes would populate your menu in places that customers would likely eye after they have glanced at the most prominent spots on your menu.

Puzzle (Bottom right) - High in profitability but low in popularity, Puzzles can bring in a lot of cash. They should be placed prominently on your menu. Promoting them well could eventually move some of them to the Stars quadrant and allow them to benefit your business in a much more significant way. 

Dogs (Bottom left) - Low in both profitability and popularity, Dogs aren’t ideal for your menu. You would be better off reworking or removing them entirely. 

This categorization can be aided by your staff since they would be well aware of the most popular dishes in your restaurant. Once done categorizing, you would want to place the ‘Stars’ and ‘Puzzles’ at the most prominent places on your menu. But…which are the most prominent places on your menu?

• Take inspiration from the list of sections of a restaurant menu below

1. Appetizers - Garlic Bread, Cheese Plate, Nachos

2. Salads and Soups - Tossed Salad, Caesar Salad, Soup of the Day

3. Sandwiches - Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Veg Burger, Steak Sandwich

4. Italian - Pepperoni Pizza, Alfredo Pasta, Fettucini

5. Main Course - North Indian Platter, Masala Dosa, Kadhai Paneer

6. Sides - Kebab, Fries, Vada Pav, Grilled Veggies

7. Seafood - Fresh Crab, Smoked Salmon

8. Mexican - Peri peri rolls, Cheese Nachos, Chicken Enchiladas

9. Specialties - BBQ Ribs, Hot Wings, Fish fingers

10. Desserts - Chocolate Banana Pies, Cheesecakes, Pastries

11. Beverages - Juices, Smoothies, Soda

12. Wine and Beer - House Wine, Beer Can, Apple Cider

13. Kids Menu - Spaghetti, Cheese Sandwich, Chicken Fingers

• The golden triangle 

Golden triangle for menu at your restaurant

A perfect restaurant menu would be designed to leverage a customer’s reading patterns. Some studies suggest there is a specific area on the menu that customers notice more than the others. This area, commonly known as the golden triangle, is the space at the centre and the upper two edges of your menu (refer to the image.) Populate the golden triangle with your most profitable items to increase the likelihood of those items being ordered by your customers.

• Negative spaces

Negative spaces refer to areas around a subject. In design, areas around a subject are intentionally left unpopulated to help emphasize it. By introducing pockets of negative space, you will naturally draw the reader’s eye towards the featured item and make it look prominent. 

Aaron Allen, a global restaurant consultant, adds that if a menu is full of text, the eye is more likely to be drawn towards open spaces. This means that items with the largest profit margins should be set apart by being surrounded by negative spaces.

Step 3 - Strategically Insert Item Prices 

No, restaurant menu pricing is not as simple as writing prices next to your dishes. Certainly not if you’re trying to design the perfect menu, one that gets you sales, boosts your profits, and propels growth. Here are things to keep in mind when adding prices to your menu:

Make Price Tags As Inconspicuous As Possible

According to pricing analysis specialists, taking out the currency sign from a menu item is much more effective than keeping it in.  Customers are more likely to purchase something if they are not reminded of the fact that it costs money. Researchers at St. Andrew's University in New York decided to remove the dollar sign from their menus only to find that students eating lunch spent considerably more when they were presented with a menu that did not include the currency sign.

• Dotted lines are deadly, nest the prices instead

Dotted lines leading from one menu item to its price are a cardinal sin in menu design. Thanks to these lines, customers simply read down the prices on the right side of the menu to find out dishes available at low price points and match the cost with the dish name towards the left. 

How do we fix this? By “nesting” the price right after the meal’s description in the same size font so that your customers’ eyes just glide right over it without making it the primary decision maker. It may look improper at first glance, but you certainly don’t want to make it convenient for your customer to order the cheapest dish in your restaurant.

• Anchor effect

Start the top of your menu with an incredibly expensive item. This anchor would make everything else seem reasonably priced. Although the server doesn't expect you to order that $400 lobster, it certainly makes the $80 steak look quite thrifty, doesn't it?

Charm your customers with a 485 instead of 500

This is typical charm pricing in play. The human brain sees that initial 4 and makes the mistake of assuming the dish essentially costs 400 something rupees. This difference accounts for a huge boost in conversion rates. 

Step 4 - Write Descriptions To Elicit Emotions

Every word counts. When it comes to descriptions for dishes, every single word counts. 

Longer descriptions sell food

Elaborate, detailed menu descriptions sell nearly 30 percent more, according to one Cornell study. The more copy you write on the menu item, the less it costs in a customer’s mind because they tend to think that giving them more for their money. Customers also rate the more thoroughly described dishes as tasting better. 

Use adjectives that your customers hold in high regard

Adjectives like “farm-raised,” or “locally-sourced” are big turn-ons for customers in the US. These words help you increase the perception of the quality of the dish. This verbiage is so effective that a couple of American states have “Truth in Menu” laws designed to prevent restaurants from misinforming customers of the origins of their food products.  

• Choose words that trigger nostalgia

We all have that one meal that takes us back to the good old childhood days. Use this tendency to your advantage by adding dishes like ‘Grandma’s Dal Chawal.’ Alluding to past time periods can bring in happy memories of family and tradition,” one study says. “Customers tend to like the feeling of having wholesome and traditional food because they sure don’t make it now like they used to.

Strive to make your menu self-explanatory

‘What am I exactly going to be served?’ This is precisely what your customers are looking to understand when they read your description. If your menu answers this question, customers would feel confident about what they’re going to be served and this would add to their satisfaction. 

Step 5 - Bring In The Beautiful Food Photos

If there’s one thing that diners care about more than the menu itself, it’s the food. You can have the most creative menu in the world, but if the photos of your dishes are unappetizing, then few people are going to be swayed by your menu. To prevent this from happening, make sure you take high-quality photos of every dish on your menu. Your photos should look appetizing and tempting, and they should make diners want to eat at your restaurant. Here are some actionable tips for taking the best food photos!

Click photos in natural light

Morning around 10 AM or afternoon around 2 PM are particularly great times. If you can’t get your food outside your restaurant, keeping it at a table near the window with ample sunlight will do the trick too! In case you can’t shoot in daylight, try to position yellow lights right above your dishes.

Position your dishes carefully

Your goal should be to capture exactly what’s going to be served. Rather than clicking from an Instagram point of view, click from a clarity point of view. Place your dish in the center and stick to overhead or straight-on angles. Do not tilt the camera sideways while clicking and keep the lens of the camera parallel to the table on which your dish is kept. 

Edit your photos

Food photos should be colorful, bright, and sharp. If you aren’t sure where to start editing, here are some basic improvements:

Boost vibrance

  • Lift any dark shadows
  • Increasing clarity and/or contrast. 

Avoid extreme filters that distract customers and significantly alter the look of your food.

Here are some free online photo editors that come in handy:

  • Pixlr
  • Fotor
  • Canva
  • PicsArt
  • BeFunky

How To Get Started?

Now it’s time for you to go ahead and design that menu. Start by following the five steps listed in this guide. When you’re done, the last thing remaining would be to visually design the menu on a designing tool. 

Here are some DIY tools that you can use to design your menu. Many of these have menu design templates that you can get started with.

  • Canva
  • iMenu
  • Visme
  • Photoshop
  • Adobe Express 

If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out the 50 best restaurant menu samples here. However, if you think designing menus is not for you, you could hire a professional. But before you call them up, make sure to have your menu’s content ready. And if you really want to create the perfect menu, make sure that you stick to the five simple steps we just shared with you :) 

Oshin Sharma
Content Manager

I research best practices from across the restaurant industry and condense them into easy to understand articles.

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