Basic tips for Menu Design

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The menu is one of the most significant features in your business. It is an expression of your business personality and a key element for promotion and marketing of your products and services.

Your menu is a reflection of your brand and its mission, connecting your customers directly with your offering. Therefore, you need to know the basic principles of menu design to be able to create the best possible menu for your business.

Choosing from different types of menu

The first step in building the menu for your business is to decide what type of menu is the most suitable for your brand and offering. This decision needs to be taken by considering several factors like your cuisine, customer profiles, location, brand image, opening hours and food and drinks production capacity.  

Let’s explore all the basic menu types available so you are able to decide what’s the best-case scenario for your business.

Static Menu

This type of menu is the most popular amongst food and drink businesses. It doesn’t have frequent changes and it includes all the items offered by the business, divided in different categories (starters, salads, mains, desserts, etc.)

It is regarded to be the most consistent type of menu due to the amount of options they offer, usually resulting in good levels of customer satisfaction.  The tricky part with this type of menu is to keep the number of items offered within limits.

It’s a recipe for failure when you create a menu with a very large number of dishes, trying to keep everyone satisfied. Keep your menu small; around 40 items in your menu will do a fantastic job for you and the customer.

À La Carte Menu

À La Carte can be described as “Individually Priced” or “From the Menu”. In this type of menu, every item has a separate price.

À La Carte menus might have a slightly higher prices, but they offer more flexibility to the customer, as they are able to choose and combine individual items from different categories, building their order the way they desire for themselves.

Du Jour Menu

This can be described as “Menu of the Day”. Du Jour menus change daily and they are usually based on the daily availability of food items. This type of menu will help you control your food waste and offer extra feeling of fresh food to your customers.

Cycle Menu

In the Cycle Menu, the items included are repeated in specific periods of time. As an example, you can have a specific menu for every Monday, another one for every Tuesday, and so on.

Or you can have the same specific menu for the first week of every month, another one for the second week of each month etc. This menu will help you in the food preparation as you know in advance the food items you sell each specific period of time.  

A good tactic is to use a cycle menu on top of  a static menu to boost your sales on specific items by creating offers for them in the cycle menu.

Fixed Menu

It is commonly known as Set Menu and it has a small number of options with a pre-set price for each of them. There are two types of Fixed Menus:

  • Prix Fixe Menu: it consists of a specific starter, main and dessert, at a fixed total price. It offers little to no variability, as the customers will have very few options to substitute a component of this menu due to their dietary restrictions or preferences.
  • Table d’Hote Menu: this type of fixed menu offers the customer to choose a starter, main and dessert from a number of options, at a fixed total price. Unlike the Prix Fixe menu, it offers some variability to the customer as they are be able to choose from a number of different options for their starter, main and dessert.

Dessert Menu

A dessert menu can be an À La Carte, Static, Du Jour, or Cycle Menu.

It includes all the desserts available and is usually offered to the customer at the end of their meal.

Drinks Menu

This can be a static, du jour, or cycle menu. It includes all the available beverages and it can be produced in the following types:

Non-alcoholic drinks menu: including all soft drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate etc.

Wine Menu: including all available wines set in categories (white, rose red, sparkling)

Cocktails and Spirits Menu: it’s a great tactic to include seasonal cocktails in this menu. Dot forget to add a description of the ingredients under each cocktail.

Displaying menu items

Describing menu items

The items in your menu should have a name and short description, arranged in a logical order. The name of each item should be catchy and easy for the customer to understand, matching the actual dish. In the description you should include the main ingredients of the dish, but not the whole recipe. The choice of words makes the difference here as they should make the customer want to eat or drink the specific item.

When describing each dish or drink, you need to include a short explanation of the cooking method. This is particularly important for customers with health requirements, following a balanced diet or looking for a healthier lifestyle.

The description of the dishes should not be having misleading information. If your meat is not locally sourced, you must not state that your meat is local as apart from fooling your customers, you might also find yourself breaking the law.  

It is also a legal requirement in many countries to state the weigh or size of a dish, like a steak or a burger for example.

You must also include a description regarding any accompaniments and if they must be purchased separately.

Finally, in most countries it is a legal requirement to inform your customers in the description of each dish, whether it contains any of the 14 major allergens.

At this point, you need to remember the power of first impressions. What you should be aiming for is that your menu will make a big impact in a small amount of time. The customers will only spend only a few minutes to decide so make it easy for them to scan through your menu and make the best choice from your offering.



Menu item categories

You should arrange all your menu items in categories based on their main ingredients and recipe. Basic categories to use can be:

Starters / Cheese / Salads / Pasta / Pizza / Burgers / Meat and Poultry / Fish and Shellfish / Vegetarian Dishes / Vegan Dishes / Specials of the Day / Side Dish / Alcoholic Drinks / Non-alcoholic Drinks / Desserts.

It all depends in your brand, cuisine and style of business. You can even have different menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Maybe a separate Drink Menu or a Dessert Menu might suit your offering as well, depending on the number of items you have available in these categories.

A separate Kids Menu is a must if you are targeting in families with kids.

Prices in the menu

It goes without saying that next to the name of each item you need to include their price. My suggestion is to arrange your items in each category based on the price, starting with the lowest price on top to the highest one to the very bottom. This will create a logical order and make it easier for the customer to make their decisions for their order.

It’s a great tactic to avoid using money symbols as it tends to affect peoples’ psychology when trying to order. Plain numbers can do the job for you as everyone knows the currency they are paying with. 

Another trick is to bury your prices at the bottom of appealing descriptions. This way your customers will not focus on the price but in the description of your item.

If you don’t follow this technique and decide to use a column for the prices, the customers mainly focus on the price and this usually leads them to choose the cheapest item rather than the most appealing to them.