How to Create a Beautifully Designed Profitable Menu

how to design a menu with menu engineering

The restaurant industry has been tossed through a laundry list of change, and forced innovations since early 2020. But even before the pandemic, restaurants have always been a remarkably difficult industry for business owners. With notoriously slim margins already, the addition of labor shortages, global inflation, and supply chain disruptions have increased the difficulty of running successful restaurants exponentially.

Now, more than ever before, it is critical for restaurants to be cognizant of their profit margins and their bottom line. Many operators are looking into new ways to optimize their revenue. Some operators are choosing to look at new reports such as Actual vs Theoretical (AvT) food costing, real-time reporting on daily pricing changes, recipe costing, and a wide variety of other data reports to identify trends. Other operators are utilizing reporting data and analytics to engineer their menus to increase profitability per guest. This is known as menu engineering.

What is menu engineering?

Proper menu engineering merges menus & data streams to increase profitability.

Menu engineering takes a deep dive into restaurant(s) data to categorize menu items on a profitability vs profitability matrix. A profitability vs probability matrix includes four categories: plow horse, stars, dog, and puzzle. 

Menu engineering allows restauraters to focus on increasing their profit per customer per location.

By understanding customer favorites/profitability – menu optimization can dramatically increase profit margins. Menu engineering makes it easy to decide which menu items to remove, and really focus attention on the items that customers and margins love.

Menu Engineering: Design Principles & Psychology

Menu aesthetic tips: Using best practices for menu and design

Simplify your menu 

Having too many options can overwhelm your customers. Limiting your menu can actually boost the customer experience. Plus, by limiting menu items, you can limit the number of ingredients stored and free up space in the kitchen. Simplifying your menus increases efficiency and streamlines operations. 

Engage with storytelling 

Diners choose menu items and restaurants based on a variety of factors. One of them, being the ambiance or the way your restaurants make them feel. And while you probably wouldn’t want to eat from a menu that sounds like a gigantic list of buzzwords, at the same time – you just might not be able to resist “Grandma’s Lasagna” at the local hole in the wall.

Consider the stories you are telling with your menu items, and use your creativity! Write engaging, authentic menu names and descriptions.

Pro tip* Be sure to list the ingredients as well for better customer selection. 

Consider typography

When updating your menus, don’t forget to consider typography. Fonts give your brand a look, feel, and personality. Choose fonts that represent your brand well. Don’t forget to experiment with bold, cursive, italics, capitalization formats, or emojis as well. 

While italics and cursive can give a luxiorious feel, all capitals can give more of an edgy feel. Experiment with typography best suited for your brand image.

Color psychology

Finally, when updating your menus consider the psychology of color. As with photography, fonts, and other design elements – color has psychological associations. Consider the colors you are using, and how they reflect and relate to your brand and what messages they convey. 

For instance: green can symbolize fresh ingredients, whereas blue is a calming color known as the color of trust. Red grabs attention, and yellow can stimulate the appetite. 

Update photography

Since you are already updating your menu, consider updating your photography at the same time. If your restaurants utilize photographs on your menus, consider refreshing your imagery. 

Whether you hire a food stylist, and professional product photographer – or practice your own photograph artistry with your iPhone – new imagery can update the whole feel of your menu. 

Food photography tips:

  • Double check the lighting. Make sure you are testing the lighting to watch for harsh shadows, and utilize natural nighting when possible. The light should hit your food from the side not directly from the top for best practices. Getting the right lighting will make it easier to shoot the perfect image.
  • Experiment with colors and textures. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Stylized plates, silverware, tables, and angles of your photographs are all fair game. Test out different locations and styles to see what you like. 
  • Edit your software like a professional. Hire a designer, or use Photoshop to edit your own photos if you can. For beginners, wanting an easier learning curve, but easy to use platform to edit photos – Canva is a great resource for restaurants, and not just for food photography editing. Canva also has social media graphic templates, email templates, and more.
  • Enhance your food. Have your chefs take time crafting the perfect plate. Leave enough white space around the edges, and arrange your food to show off its best features. Emphasize the delicious elements by taking extra time to perfectly craft your dishes to accentuate and show off their flavors.

Experiment with pricing display options

Customers already know that going out to eat costs money. Avoid reinforcing the cost on your menus. Research shows that adding the dollar sign symbol on your menus can actually decrease sales. De-emphasizing the pricing, and emphasizing the menu can increase guest satisfaction.

Many large chain restaurants have removed pricing completely from their websites, and instead have pricing listed location-specific through their own apps, or local delivery apps to combat changing prices. Additionally, many chain restaurants have shifted from listing the full price of their combo meals up front, and instead opting for a base price (+) model as well. 

Take a look at pricing display options that make the most sense for your restaurants, and give your customers a chance to focus on the menu, not on the pricing.

QR code menus 

Save on printing costs, and easily update your menus in real-time with QR codes. As the pandemic has forced many restaurants to shift from physical to virtual menus for hygienic purposes already, this trend isn’t going away. By building your menus virtually with a QR code menu, you can make sure your restaurants are up to date and modernized. (That doesn’t mean you can’t still have amazing physical menus, though. And we certainly don’t want to stop you.)

As digital technology innovates, restaurants are going to need to continuously rely on technology solutions to be able to stay ahead of their competition. Use technology as an asset as you engineer your menus and create new menus going forward. 

Customer experience

Consider additional details for the customer experience unique to your restaurants. Are your customers looking to see the calorie count on the menu? Add it! Is there a menu item cut from a particular location that was wildly popular? Is it feasible to bring it back? Investigate new ways to add to your customer experience while redesigning your menus. 

Have you recently redone your menus? We’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us for a chance to highlight your story!

Here’s to optimized menus!

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Leverage Technology to Manage Restaurant Labor Costs

Between increased costs, labor shortages, and socio-economic complexities - staying on top of labor costs is more important than ever for franchise owners.

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