5 Secrets to Designing a Menu That Will Make Customers Order More

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV from Pexels

Think menus are just for ordering? Think again. They don’t just list dishes and prices; they’re vital pieces for a restaurant’s success. How? You may want to point to psychology and marketing for that.

Designers and menu engineers (yes, that’s an actual job title) strategically choose and place specific elements on menus to elicit reactions from customers and diners. Menu engineers, in particular, look at the verbal and visual psychology behind people’s menu orders. They take that information and base their designs around it, keeping restaurants’ profits in mind.

Incredible dining experiences come with well-designed menus. If they look great, wait until they see what your joint has to offer. Be your own menu engineer and master these five design secrets to keep orders coming.

  •  Emphasis is necessary

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Remember how publications employ callout quotes? Menus do the same thing too! Every restaurant has its bestseller, so why not emphasize it?

Industry experts call these highlights “eye magnets.” They come in various shapes, from boxes (as pictured above) to ribbons. Judging by their name, they’ve done their purpose in getting people’s attention. Aside from catching diners’ eyes, these magnets also intend to spur them into action.

Make the magnets more effective by adding high-quality images alongside them. Not only will they help customers tell what they look like, but they increase sales of highlighted items by 30% too! This is a popular practice, especially now that online ordering is buzzing.

You can use eye magnets more than once in a single menu, especially if you have a ton of bestsellers. Just don’t overload the designs and senses too much through overuse. According to expert menu engineer Gregg Rapp, strategies need to be in place when emphasizing specific items. If you do it too often, its impact will lessen. He recommends curators limit their highlights to just a single dish per section.


  •  The “eyes” have it

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There’s a reason menu engineers pay attention to customers’ reading patterns. The industry noticed that most people set their sights on a menu’s upper-right hand corner first, which they dub the “sweet spot.” So, if you’ve wondered why that specific corner’s highlighted most of the time, there’s your answer.

However, recent studies suggest that customers nowadays look through menu items as if they’re reading books. Rather than start from the upper-right corner, diners begin scanning from the top left corner.

Regardless of your chosen scanning pattern, you can surely take advantage of this secret. Make the most out of your selected corner by adding illustrations to accentuate the highlighted item. If you don’t want them, that’s fine—just use typography instead to make an impact.

One more thing: the “sweet spot” can change due to layout preferences. If your menu only has a single panel, the top portion is the main attraction. The top part of the right-side panel becomes the highlighted area if you have a two-panel layout. For three-panel menus, should emphasize the third panel’s top portion. Lastly, multi-panel menus should emphasize the top spot of every page.

  •  Items aren’t dollar signs

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Although raking in profits is crucial to every restaurant’s survival (especially in these challenging times), so is satisfying customer bases. What would your joint be without your diners?

Research suggests that customers shell out less when they spot currency symbols on menus. Even though they know spending is inevitable, the fact that they have to pay up still stings for them. With that said, how can restaurants strike a balance?

Menu engineers recommend taking dollar signs and other currency symbols off menus. Take a look at the image above for reference. Rather than focus on the price, the lack of signs allows diners to order what truly appeals to them. This makes for a happier dining experience since they won’t have price tags to stress over.

This tactic is a win for both restaurants and customers. If diners leave your joint with a full stomach and happy face, your establishment gains a little more from people. According to The Center for Hospitality Research, customers spend a bit more at restaurants that exclude currency symbols and the word “dollar(s)” from their menus.

  •  No, the price isn’t right

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV from Pexels

Want extra appeal? Decrease your prices’ visibility! One trick is to place them at the bottom of item descriptions discreetly. Make sure to remove any currency symbol and leave the word “dollar” out when you do! Check out the picture above and take extra cues from there.

Trick number two: add a decoy. In this context, it’s a dish or item that seemingly has an expensive price tag. Menu engineers include them to make other choices appear more reasonably priced. Decoys make customers feel like they’re getting their money’s worth and that everything is a steal. 

Instead of automatically going for the cheapest options, diners will be more inclined to take a look at the section in front of them. They may even end up ordering more, thanks to this tactic!

  •  Pictures aren’t always worth a thousand words

Photo by Sunrise Photos on Unsplash

We all know how powerful pictures are, right? In the case of food photography, high-quality photos make mouths water a little more.

It isn’t advisable to add photos into every nook and cranny of a menu design, as tempting as it is for some people. Pull back on the imagery and stick to adding just one picture per page. Not only does it make menus look less messy, but it increases sales too—up to 30% for a specific entry!

If you look at the picture above, you’ll notice that the menus only use tiny images in small quantities. Their inclusion doesn’t take away from the overall feel; instead, it enhances it. If you want to pull off a similar effect, make sure the limited number of images you include are of high quality and play up the entry’s aesthetics.

We hope you’ll learn a lot from these five menu designing secrets. Go ahead and give it a try yourself! Don’t get too down in the dumps during mistakes—there’s a first time for everything, after all. Good luck!

Categories: Business

Nicolas Desjardins

Hello everyone, I am the main writer for SIND Canada. I've been writing articles for more than 12 years and I like sharing my knowledge. I'm currently writing for many websites and newspapers. I always keep myself very informed to give you the best information. All my years as a computer scientist made me become an incredible researcher. You can contact me on our forum or by email at [email protected].