Psychology of Restaurant Menu Design – Tips for Menu Layout and Planning

Staying ahead of the game is one of the biggest challenges new restaurants face and the food industry is not very forgiving towards failure. Searching for ways to enhance customer experience is one way to ensure the success of your business ventures and a restaurant menu design plays a very important role. Efforts made into designing a seating layout for your venue should also be invested towards a restaurant menu design for that purpose. While the interior design may be the foundation of the restaurant, the menu is the glue that cements everything together.

Restaurant Menu – More than Just a List of Food

Getting past the surface of matters is not always an easy task. But there is always more that meets the eye. If you are able to peel through the layers, you will come to realize that a restaurant menu is more than a list of dishes. Much like a restaurant’s layout design, the menu is an important piece of marketing material. Your menu should express the character of your restaurant, highlight your business goals, promote your revenue but above all, entice your customers. Listing your items and prices may not be as simple as it seems. In fact, creating a restaurant menu can be overwhelming as there are endless decisions to make on the food you want to serve, the cost of each dish, etc. When learning how to design a restaurant menu, there are five important factors to account for.

  • Color
  • Font
  • Size
  • Photographs
  • General layout of different courses


When pricing out your menu, you want to stay in line with competition with similar types of restaurants. Note this doesn’t mean you have to be cheaper than them but the price points should be aligned with each other.

Organizing Your Restaurant Menu Planning

Before you embark on a scavenger hunt for restaurant menu layout ideas, you should organize yourself to reduce the stress of figuring out what to make and how to prepare your meals on a daily basis. You can begin with checking the ingredients you have and make notes on which items you will use and discard before you stock up. Effective restaurant menu planning can be very rewarding as it saves money and time. It all starts with your environment. The location of your venue is one of the most crucial steps you need to take for planning your menu. You should find something that will excite and entice customers. Honing in on to your clientele is essential to taking a holistic approach to your menu – seeing how the location and the clientele fit with your menu.


While there is room for flexibility in menu planning, a cohesive menu that syncs with the style, theme and ambiance of your restaurant is important. A menu that is not will confuse and possibly deter patrons. Although there is nothing wrong with being different, everyone prefers to stick to classics and finding a balance between the two can be mutually beneficial. After all, the success of your business largely relies on customer satisfaction. Pleasing your guests is just as important as fulfilling your passions.


Keeping it small and simple goes a long way. Patrons might be overwhelmed by too many choices of dishes featured in a big menu. Research has found that such menus cause indecisiveness among guests even resulting in their departure from the restaurant. You may think that lots of choices is good for your business but it only confuses and frustrates customers and causes a decline in probability. A small menu is easy for everyone to follow and place their orders. With a basic menu, you won’t have to buy many different kinds of produce and your chefs can focus on quality over quantity.

Restaurant Menu Design Ideas as a Food for Thought

Sadly, a restaurant menu design and layout is overlooked but it is indeed a reflection of the restaurant itself. The menu design and layout as well as the colors, whether it is formal, casual, or playful, should be compatible with your restaurant concept. The font and color structure on your menu should mirror the motif of your restaurant. Perhaps you want to open a Mexican themed restaurant. Vibrant colors such as red, purple, turquoise, and green would be ideal choices for your menu. Those colors and font on a menu, however, would not blend with the decors at a French bistro or at an Italian restaurant. Menus at a French bistro have a classic script or a simple plain font. Sports bars and other casual dining establishments tend to use less formal or playful fonts. A font that is too small or hard to read is never recommended.


If you take a look at a menu at most restaurants, you will notice this it is arranged in a sequential matter: appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, desserts, and beverages. Sections on the menu should be identifiable by the bold headings, borders or boxes. Highlighting specialty dishes, a house’s favorite, signature dishes with a star or other insignia is one way to showcase your chef’s talents thus drawing customer’s attention to these dishes.


Depending on the size of your restaurant menu, one or two columns are popular layouts. Adding more than two columns can make your menu look more like newspaper classifieds. Daily specials can easily be updated with a mere clear menu insert. Too many pictures or backgrounds can make a menu illegible. Common computer clipart can diminish the professional look of a restaurant menu design.

Using (Color) Psychological Tricks on a Menu Design

Color can be used for emphasis as it triggers emotional responses among people. Much how a restaurant color scheme of an interior design can have psychological effects on a customer’s appetite, so can color in a menu design. At most, colors influence food sales. Red and yellow are chief food colors that are thought to evoke the taste buds and stimulate appetite. These colors are proven to be effective in the fast food industry when used on their own or in various pairings. Orange naturally lends itself as another appetizing color to food. Even though orange is a trendy color, it can be a double-edge sword. Depending on its context and intent, orange can work for or against your product. Connoting eco-friendliness and health, green is often used as a color scheme in both the interior design and menu at vegan/vegetarian restaurants. Cool tones like purple and blue don’t typically stimulate appetite as much and therefore the context and application should be done with care. Bright colors imply a burst of flavor and desserts among other sweets often come to mind. Subdued and muted color tones signify deep, savory and complex flavors but also work nicely for rich and sweet flavors like chocolate.


Psychology and marketing come into play in a restaurant menu and use a technique that the food industry calls “eye magnet” – virtually anything that draws attention to the eye. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion and can be used to encourage customers to order certain dishes associated with it from a menu. Menus use a lot of eye magnets that include shaded boxes and frames with solid and/or dotted lines. Elements like arrows and ribbons are used in a menu to catch the attention of the patron. Sometimes, certain dishes are highlighted by a box or frame as a tactic to encourage patrons to order from that selection.


Whether photos in menus are effective or not fundamentally depend on the type of restaurant. Pairing photographs with every dish listed on the menu is a technique a lot of people associate with cheap and low-end eateries. Upscale venues avoid this practice for that reason. Certain restaurants claim that featuring one photograph per page on a menu has increased the sales of that item by 30%. The quality of the photograph is another factor that can influence the customer’s appetite and effect sales. Photos that play up to the dish’s ingredients, colors, and textures can make the item visually appealing enough for people to want to order it. Consequently, poor quality images can have the opposite outcome.

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