Whether you’re opening a new restaurant or evaluating your current business, it is key to remember the importance of a well-designed menu.

Your menu is the only form of communication and advertising that 100% of your customers will see. Creating your menu is not just about listing the items you offer, it’s about selling those items. When designing your menu, you must consider all the elements—products, organization, fonts, color and size—so you can be sure that your menu does its job for you!

Your menu should represent who you are and appeal to your target audience. When going out for a fine dining experience, one would expect a quality feel to the menu. For example, a white table cloth establishment will often use leather covers or heavy-weighted card stock. A customer wouldn’t walk into an upscale steakhouse and expect to be handed a laminated piece of paper. The cheaper presentation may leave guests questioning the quality of the $50 steak they just selected. On the other hand, if you run a kid-friendly, casual establishment, a laminated piece of paper is ideal! It’s lightweight, and no worries if the kiddos make a mess!

Colors, Fonts, and Sizes, OH MY! When creating your menu, be sure it is clean and easy to read. A well-designed menu can direct attention to certain menu items and increase the likelihood of those items being ordered. Fonts and colors should be used to emphasize certain menu items and specials. As an operator, focus on items with the most gross profit. These items can be in a bold, larger font, or a different color. Direct attention to these by giving them a unique name or designating them as your “house specialties.” Oftentimes, menus will also use small borders around specific items. But be careful not to use too many fonts or colors. Too many distractions will make the items less likely to stand out, defeating the purpose of using design elements at all. Another good habit to avoid is placing a lot of emphasis on price; or you just may find customers making their selections strictly on value items.

Organization is key! Many operators organize their menus by the item category. If you do, good for you! If not, pay attention. Organizing your menu is very important to guiding your guests to the best dining experience. Start with appetizers, soups and salads, then entrees, then desserts. Entrees can be categorized into protein choices as well—beef, chicken, seafood, etc. Having an organized menu allows the customer to easily navigate through all the items. It also allows the servers to easily point out specific items and upsell. Finally, less is often more. Do not overcrowd your menu with items. Statistics show that most of an establishment’s sales come from a small percentage of items. Focus on those items! Larger menus can lead to less interest.

Your menu design is just as important as plate presentation and the quality of your food. A well-designed menu will allow you to focus on and increase sales of specific items, which could lead to more accurate projected sales and better inventory control. A great menu can offer the same appeal as good commercial or enthusiastic server. Put your menu to work for you!