Best ways to increase sales through better restaurant menu design

October 15, 2022

We often open up a restaurant or bar looking at every part of the business to make sure it’s presentable to eventually realize that we’ve become sidetracked in the chaos of day to day operations. It’s easy to slide from our original and clean restaurant menu designs and perfected presentation of a space when you are in it day to day – slowly accepting small changes that ultimately begin to add up in differences.

After doing graphic design work for the last 20 years while spending equal time within restaurants and bars it was easy to see what owners were doing wrong with their menus, flyers, and logos. Professionals do professional work – and charge for it. However if you follow a few rules and stick to the “copy and duplicate” model you should be able to execute a cheaper framework for success when designing your own restaurant menu.

1. Highlight one of your higher margin “favorites”

When you format your menu the easiest way to suggestively sell without depending on your waiter is to subtly highlight or box out a menu item that may be marketed as a “crowd pleaser” when in actuality that menu item tends to be something quick to make, priced easily enough for your guest to add it to the menu, and has more margin to it than other food menu items.

These highlights shouldn’t be in your face but a soft subtle color change behind the lettering of the food menu item or possibly an icon next to it to show that it is popular.

2. Don’t overcomplicate the menu

How much time would you spend looking through the menu of Cheesecake Factory in the old days just to realize that 80% of that menu was comprised of chicken dishes? The days of large menus are coming to an end and we’re saving on labor, fridge space, cost of goods and more by looking at your product mix.

If you have an obscure menu item that sells only a few times a month because you have a single patron who supports it – it’s got to go. Menu space is like real estate and offering items that don’t perform well can harm the consistency of products and expectations while increasing space taken in the fridge and line.

3. Include a dessert section on the main menu

How often do you see a waiter ask if anyone has left room for dessert just to be instantly shut down by a quite full family that completely cleared their plates off?

Showcasing what you may have offer for dessert ahead of time is an easy way to have your guests not only thinking ahead of what they will order the moment they are ready to do so, but also make sure that they portion their meal into a takeout container for the next day.

Refuse to add it onto the regular menu? Have your waitstaff drop off a menu halfway through the meal before they become full and bloated which will give them the option to slow down.

4. Include clear sections in your menu for easier focus

Similar to highlighting menu items that are high profit margins and less work to make is the idea of making sure your guests know exactly where to look when you structure your menu. Menus that have words on every inch of the design can be overwhelming and feel like chaos, translating to a less than pleasant user experience.

Think of your menu format like a flow chart – making it simple for guests to see where their culinary journey begins and where it ends with a pitstop here or there for add-on’s. The sections broken up into their respectable coursing should be in bold lettering or all caps using a commanding font. Sure, these aren’t rules to live by as far as what gets a bold treatment and what doesn’t but it’s certainly a solid start and guide.

The menu items and descriptions should also have different fonts from the heading to differentiate what fonts and boldness hold what informative functions. This will also allow the guest to decide on what to order faster as they become trained to the format, skimming through for the dish that peaks their interest.

5. Offer information about a future happening.

There’s nearly not one guest that walks into your restaurant and doesn’t look at the menu for a set period of time. It’s the one item they need typically to make an informed decision on how to fulfill one of their basic needs – food. Along with creating all of the clean formats, clear and concise visibility, dessert section, and highlights of high profit margin items… why aren’t we capturing leads?

It can cost you $1-$20 to capture a basic lead using various advertising channels typically, but most owners overlook the leads that are already walking into their buildings. Justin uses a reward program in Smokehouse that is server briefed when you receive your bill, but also is labeled on the bill for a free appetizer when someone signs up.

With the ability of QR codes becoming so mainstream through covid, it would be more acceptable now to put a small clean one in a corner of a menu with a short explanation of where it may lead to. Some of the examples of generating restaurant leads could direct this traffic towards:

  • Email Marketing Service (Mailchimp recommended)
    • Easy to use functions with data reporting
    • Free up to 500 contacts
    • Automation abilities
    • Up to 1,500 emails can be sent per month
  • Upcoming restaurant/bar event flyers
    • Happy hour deals
    • Weekday specials that you want to draw traffic to
    • Social Media pages to build follower support and engagement
  • Event Link for Tickets
    • Special Tasting Dinners with prix fixe menus, tickets can be paid for upfront to guarantee the sale.

You have so many options when it comes to designing your restaurant and bar menu!

Gone are the days of just waiting for guests to funnel in as there are more restaurants and bars more now than ever. There is a lot of competition and in order to capture it you must either change your ways or button up your business. Each opportunity is a couple more percentage points closer to capturing a win and with each of the above items you can significantly impact your business in a positive light by slowly tweaking the formula.

Don’t expect instant results as guests don’t always instantly return to your business as much as they enjoy cycling. The goal is that they manage to suggest cycling back to your establishment again in the future and that you can capture as much information and dollars from them as you can in the brief time period you have their attention.