How to Make a Restaurant Menu

Whether you're designing a menu for your own restaurant, or you've been hired by an establishment to carry out this task, here are steps you can take and factors to consider throughout the process.


  1. Image titled Make a Restaurant Menu Step 1
    Sketch a mock-up of the basic menu layout. You will probably want to limit initial designs to just categories, section titles, and relevant graphics. Here are big-picture issues for you to keep in mind:
    • Choose a color scheme that matches the style of the restaurant. For a fancy restaurant, dark colors will convey a sense of seriousness and professionalism. At a casual restaurant, warm, muted colors will look appropriately inviting. At a restaurant with a young clientele or a zanier theme, bright colors will usually make the most sense. Unless you’re not happy with the interior design or plan on changing it, making the menus match (or at least complement) the restaurant itself is probably the safest bet.
    • Order your menu logically. Your menu should reflect the order in which people actually eat the dishes you offer. At an all-day establishment, this would be breakfast, lunch, appetizers, dinner, and then dessert. Traditionally, simple drinks (water, soda, tea) are listed last; specialty drinks (wines, cocktails) are usually on a separate list or an insert.
    • Visually break your menu into 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)
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    List the food items and prices. The easiest way to do this is by writing columns (Food Item, Description, Price). Make sure it’s clear which item belongs to which description or price, especially if the font is small and the rows are hard to follow. A simple way to do this is to connect items with a series of periods (…). Keeping variety in mind is generally a good idea:
    • Make sure there are a few economy dishes that are below the average price of the dishes as well as a few expensive specialty items.
    • Consider offering diet-specific dishes. Items specifically for vegetarians, vegans, kids, or people on low-calorie or heart-healthy diets will satisfy a greater variety of customers.
    • Consider offering specials during happy hour and for seniors, military personnel, and other groups. 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 add-ons 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."
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    Describe each dish. The food items themselves should have descriptive titles. Ex: “Burger” doesn’t sound like much, but “Juicy Burger with Arugula and Horseradish Aioli” will get your readers’ attention. After that, include a brief description of all the ingredients in the dish. Ex: “Quarter-pound all-beef patty with arugula, creamy aioli, grilled mushrooms, ripe tomatoes, and pepper jack or Swiss cheese on a brioche bun.” 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.)
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    Add photos with caution. Food photography is notoriously difficult. If you can afford to hire an excellent professional food photographer, the images may help make the food more appetizing. However, the appeal of food is that it is three-dimensional, smells tantalizing, and is often warm 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.
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    Work out the finer details in a second round of mock-ups. This time, focus on font, margins, spacing, and overall composition:
    • Keep your fonts simple. Don’t get carried away with funky fonts, which can be fun but tend to look unprofessional. Don’t use more than 3 fonts on the menu or it will look busy.
    • Use larger, simple fonts for restaurants with a large elderly clientele. People buy more if they can easily read the choices.
    • Err on the side of a shorter, simpler design. 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?
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    Select the final layout. Make sure the restaurant owner, manager and chef sign off on the design and content. Additionally, have someone who isn’t in the business give you their thoughts; what seems obvious to someone in the know may be confusing for the layman.
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    Proofread and print the final design. 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 changes to the menu. 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.
  • Never 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.
  • 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, encourage the owner to include some new food items, and to rearrange the menu. Patrons who see the same old offerings for a higher price may take their business elsewhere.
  • 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.

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Categories: Hospitality Businesses