The menu is perhaps the most important element of a restaurant. After all, it's what drives guest in through the online discovery of possible restaurants to dine in that night and the correct layout and design is what will entice them to purchase that signature dish. Even having the right number of menu items and locating them in specific locations on your menu along with how you price your items should be taken into consideration.
Here, we provide an overview of some possible steps to take when creating or revising your restaurant's menu. In addition, CAKE offers two levels of menu builds for our customers. You can review those details here. We highly recommend you purchase a Premium Menu Build from CAKE as our menu team has built hundreds of menus for our customers and with that premium purchase, you get a dedicated Implementation Specialist that will consult with you on how to adapt your current paper menu for our CAKE POS. This service will save you countless hours in attempting to build out your own menu so you can spend that time focusing on your other restaurant needs.
Steps to Building Out a Menu:
1. Start with a basic sketch of your menu
Literally. Take pieces of paper if you're not ready to make anything digital and let your imagination flow. You will probably want to limit initial drawings to categories (appetizers, desserts), section titles, and relevant graphics (What pictures would you include? Do you have them already or do you need to take them?
Keep in mind:
- Color. For a whit cloth restaurant type, dark colors are best as they demonstrate seriousness and professionalism to your guests. At a more casual eatery, warm, muted colors will invite your guests. Is your audience younger? Does it have a wacky kind of theme? Bright colors probably work best. Use this opportunity to complement the colors of your actual restaurant to make that connection to your clientele.
- Logic. The menu should have a recognizable flow in which your customers will actually eat the food. This would be breakfast, lunch, appetizers, dinner, and then dessert most likely. Drinks(water, soda, tea) are typically listed last; specialty drinks (wines, cocktails) are usually on a separate list or an insert.
- Sections. You should either break up your categories of food using large, simple headings or, if you offer many items, by putting each on its own page. If you offer a large variety of foods, you may need main sections (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) and subsections (Fish, Poultry, Vegetarian, Pasta, Salads).
- Other subsection possibilities include:
- Region (Italy, France, Spain)
- Style (Barbecue, Stir Fry, Soup, Stew)
- Popularity (Staff Recommendations, Customer Favorites)
- Other subsection possibilities include:
2. List out your items and prices.
The easiest way to do this is by writing columns (Food Item, Description, Price). You can use a software program and make a spreadsheet or you could just take out a piece of paper.
Variety is a good idea:
- A few economy dishes that are below the average price of the dishes as well as a few expensive specialty items are nice to include.
- Consider offering diet dishes if you feel it's appropriate for your restaurant (vegetarian, low-carb, gluten free).
- Happy hour specials and discounts for seniors, military personnel, and other groups can also bring in the guests. This can mean offering a discount on certain dishes at a certain time (preferably low-traffic times) or offering a smaller portion of a dish at a low price during that time.
- Look for variation in pricing for modifiers or special preparations. Find out if substitutions are allowed, and how much they cost. You may want to make note of common substitutions in the menu, like "Replace the baked potato with any other side for an extra $1.50." The CAKE POS does this for you!
3. Describe each item.
Get their attention with descriptive titles. “Hamburger” doesn’t sound great, but “Juicy Burger with Arugula and Horseradish Aioli on Hearty Roll” sounds great. After that, include a brief description of all the ingredients in the dish. It's also wise to make note (either with words or a symbol) if any of the following apply:
- The dish is hotter/spicier than most of the other dishes on the menu.
- The dish contains any ingredients to which some people are severely allergic (e.g. peanuts).
- The dish caters to a group with special dietary needs (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, low-calorie [include an accurate calorie count], low-sodium, low-acid, etc.)
4. Add photos, but use caution.
Food photography isn't easy despite what everyone who posts their dinners on social media might think! If you can afford to hire a professional food photographer, the images may help make the food more appetizing.
However, the appeal of food is that it is in 3D, smells delicious, and is appropriately warm or cold to the touch, meaning even the best photos will never do your menu justice. In general, it’s best to leave each dish’s appearance to your customers’ imagination.
5. Work out the more specific details in a serious mock-up.
This time, focus on font, margins, spacing, and overall composition of your new menu:
- Keep the font/s simple. Don’t get carried away with crazy fonts, which can be fun but tend to look unprofessional. Don’t use more than 3 fonts or it will look busy.
- Use larger, simple fonts for restaurants with a large elderly clientele. Plus, people buy more if they can read the options easily.
- Shorter, simpler design is best. This is especially relevant for high-end restaurants, where taste and simplicity are at a premium.
- Menus with a very large selection often give each dish its own number, and the numbers continue chronologically through sections. This makes it easier for the customer to communicate with the staff (ex. "I want number 4, please").
- Try to visually balance each page. Draw a square around each area of content, then look at their overall placement versus the remaining white space. Do the pages look lopsided? Do certain sections look underdeveloped, like you don’t have much to offer in that category?
6. Time to select the final layout.
Make sure the restaurant owner, manager and chef and any other stakeholders sign off on the design and content. You also want at least a couple of people to make sure there are no typos or other errors. Additionally, have someone who isn’t involved give you their thoughts; what seems obvious to someone in the know may be confusing for the customer.
7. Proofread, proofread, proofread and print the final design.
Again, we stress the importance of proofreading the menu prior to sending it to print. Go through the entire menu with a fine-tooth comb, as errors in the menu send a poor message about the quality of the establishment. You could also hire a professional editor, just in case you missed anything.
- Be prepared for seasonal items/changes. Placing items that you don’t offer year-round on a special insert (that matches the theme of the main menu) is cheaper than making multiple sets of menus.
- Try not to print menus on a home printer unless you have a professional-quality laser printer. The cost of professional printing is small compared to the impact of well printed pages. The exception of this may be a to-go menu or an insert that's only used for a short time.
- New menu covers are a good idea whenever the menu content changes. It alerts the patrons to look for new items and try new selections, including existing items they never noticed before.
- Whenever the change is primarily in prices, include some new food items as well and to rearrange the menu. People who see the same old offerings for a higher price may take their business elsewhere, but this reorganization will draw their attention away from that.
- There are many free templates available online which you can use. There is also software available that's specifically for menu design, but it's possible to create a menu using any graphic design software, and even just word processing programs (if the layout is very simple).
- Reach consensus among the restaurant managers and chef before you move on between phases, or you will end up doing dozens of revisions.