Designing your Food and Beverage Menu
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Designing your Food and Beverage Menu

A menu is more than a listing of food items with prices, it is one of the most important marketing tools a food and beverage operation has at their disposal. A menu should function as a tour guide revealing what a restaurant is most proud of and what differentiates it from its competitors.


 “If admen had souls, many would probably trade them for an opportunity every restaurateur already has: the ability to place an  advertisement in every customer’s hand before they part with their money.”  – Allen H. Kelson, Restaurant Consultant- “Ten Commandments for Menu Success,”


Statistically speaking, the average patron will spend 109 seconds looking at the menu. Great care needs to be spent putting  the right information in front of the guest to encourage the best item for them to purchase – from both their point of view and the restaurant’s. At the core of food and beverage menu design are the 5 P’s: Price, Placement, Product, Pictures, and Promotional.



The menu should focus on what your establishment offers and not how much the items cost. A dollar sign reminds people that they have to pay the amount that follows, which can lead to more internal thought on how much they are spending. This is commonly referred to as “Pain of Paying”. This encourages patrons to find the smallest number associated to the dollar sign. As the menu is reviewed at  the beginning of the dinning experience, it can cause the guest spend less on the rest of the meal.  They may decide to skip desert for an appetizer or vice versa. Perhaps chose the least expensive entree despite the dish they had in mind when they arrived.


A Cornell University study found removing the $ resulted in an increase in spending, 8% more than average. This conclusion also extends to the scripted “Dollar”.

Depending on the style of operation different methods can be used to inform the guest of the menu price:

•Round numbers are typical of an upscale dining establishment

•Prices ending in .00 tend to evoke a sense of quality in a person,

•whereas .99 trend towards a sense of value,

•and using a .95 seems friendlier.


Another Cornell university study found that menu prices that were written  (twelve vs 12.00) encouraged patrons to spend more.


Avoid putting the prices in a vertical column – guest will scan down the column to find the lowest price. Incidentally, when items are compared in a list, the second cheapest item is the sells the most. People do not want to order THE CHEAPEST item so they tend to the next least expensive choice.


Price Anchoring will take an expensive (perhaps even not too profitable) item and put other lower priced items listed below. These other items on their own might seem a slight bit expensive, but alongside the Very Expensive, ANCHOR item, they look very affordable.



Most people can only process about 7-10 different listed items. Menu sections should keep the number of items to this range. More items creates more clutter and more confusion, not to mention less time (remember the 109 seconds) to read through the menu. When the guest is given to many options, they may fall back on letting price dictate their choice.


1-Page Menu
On a one page menu the point right above the center is the first place most people look. The least attention is paid to the bottom of the page. If it is a single page front and back, all entrees should be shown on the front, as the back will receive much less attention. A one page menu will allow for a quicker decision, but tend to result in a smaller order size and thus lower average check size. A single page evokes a sense of a light and casual dining experience.


2-Page Menu
On a two-page menu the customer’s eye will first look above center on the right panel – a great place to put a profitable item. Least attention is at the bottom left panel. A two page menu is easy to read and induces the strong feeling of a full dining experience.


3-Page Menu

On three-panel (page) menus, people most often look at the center panel first, and then move counter clockwise. For tri-folds, they start at the top center of the middle panel and make their way counter-clockwise around the menu (so the top right page is the last spot they get to).  The lower right hand quadrant, back page, or last page are going to be the last places their eyes fall.


More than three pages: The more panels you have in your menu cover the less control you have over the menu. Larger menus hinder your ability to influence customers’ actions. Prime real-estate on a menu card is the top right corner, consider putting the star (see menu analysis webinar) items in this area. The eye then reads down towards the middle and down… use the concept of Anchor Pricing to put the expensive items here and boost sales of the surrounding items. Boxing sections or items can draw focus, this can be used to highlight the star or puzzle items, or can be used as the anchor points with the options near by being the more desirable choices. Avoid putting items on the back cover



Use pictures sparingly. Don’t decorate your menu with generic clip-art; this is distracting and doesn’t add much for your customers. On the other hand, if you decide to include photos of your actual food, be sure to choose photos that make your dishes look as appetizing as possible. Food photography is tricky, so you might want to consider hiring a professional photographer. Make sure that all pictures being used are have high resolution, nothing looks worse than low res pixelated images on the menu. Food pictures are commonly used in Diner style establishments and chain restaurants.


Typically, upscale and fine dining operations will not use photos, instead a few carefully selected drawings may be used to draw attention to specific sections of the menu rather than the actual items.


 Images can be used to establish areas or to provide a visual stimulus that represents the item(s).



Describe the item, convey the inspiration for the item and use words and language to entice the guest. Avoid getting too wordy with the descriptions but not too minimalist that patron’s vision of the dish is blurry. menu names with descriptive items sell better and lead you to believe that they taste better.


  • Nostalgic Descriptors.  Plays on a customer’s nostalgia and memories of growing up e.g. Grandma’s Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Aunt Bea’s Country Fried Steak, Ye Olde Mutton Chop, etc.
  • Sensory Descriptors.  Plays on a customer’s imagery of taste e.g. Plump Roasted Duck, Butter Broiled Veal, Succulent Young Lamb, etc.
  • Brand Descriptors.  Plays on brand recognition e.g. Jack Daniels Smoky BBQ Chicken, Patron Tequila Sizzled Shrimp, etc.
  • Geographic Descriptors. Plays on the flavors associated with regions e.g. Southwestern Taco Salad, Boston Clam Chowder, New York Cheesecake, etc.

Keep the amount of description balanced with the price of the item. A $40 lobster warrants more explanation than a $3.99 soup



Special menus, special items, daily items, etc. These should be on their own distinct cards/sheets. Placing the items on their own separate menus highlight special unique items that warrant their own distinct listing. These unique menus can also serve to separate items of the main menu to keep the number of choices in check. Another factor to keep in mind is the physical size of the menu(s), the larger they are to more space at the table is taken up when the guest opens the menu. It can also limit the guest – guest interactions, which can cause patrons to not look at it at all in favour of interacting with each other. Can lead to increased time that the table is not generating sales.


Have a separate desert menu. By having deserts on the same menu as everything else, a guest will consider skipping an appetizer in favour of a desert. With a separate menu, the desert comes as a kind of bonus after the meal. Incidentally the desert menu also would break up the pain of paying, by showing the desert price long after the guest saw the appetizer and entree prices.


Deserts have 5 C’s : Coffee, citrus, caramel, chocolate, and cheesecake.


In concert with the 5P’s, consider the vision and brand of your establishment, this needs to come through in the overall presentation.


Are you a quick service, casual, or upscale fine dining?


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