How to Design a Restaurant Menu: Step-by-Step Guide

How to Design a Restaurant Menu: Step-by-Step Guide

Are you starting a new restaurant or revamping an existing one? If so, make sure you’re giving enough thought to designing a menu that contributes to your restaurant’s success.

A skillfully designed menu can speak volumes about the nature and quality of your establishment. Whether you run a Michelin-starred restaurant or a friendly neighborhood diner, your menu can exceed customer expectations and build loyalty.

Restaurant owners keen to leverage the full power of a menu must keep the following considerations in mind while designing it.

You’re probably wondering about the characteristics that go into making a quality restaurant menu. We’ve got you covered. Read on to learn more.

Step 1. Prepare your menu

The first thing to do here is to decide on the broad categories and cuisines that you’d like to include in your menu. It is recommended to work with your chefs to decide on what you can serve at your restaurant. These dishes can then be divided into different categories, such as appetizers, hors d'oeuvres, main courses, desserts, and chef’s specials.

If you’re redoing an existing menu, narrow down on the items, you’d like to replace and work with your chef to come up with dishes that can do better. Preparing a menu is a creative endeavor that you undertake with your chefs—the people you trust to run your restaurant in the truest sense. Be sure to explore several themes and cuisine ideas before settling on one.

Collect each menu item

Once you’re done deciding the contents of your menu, it’s time to organize everything efficiently. How you want to organize your menu is completely up to you.

The standard convention is to list the different cuisines as headings and the three to four different courses within them as sub-sections. You can, however, organize the menu course-wise and list different sides and beverage pairing options next to the recommended dishes. The goal of your menu should be to advertise your food and assist the customers with selecting the best food combinations.

Write compelling descriptions of the food offered

Note the difference between simply writing “Meatloaf” versus “Grandma’s home-cooked meatloaf.” The second description combines an element of sentimentality that evokes memories and emotions.

A good menu describes a restaurant’s identity and approach to food. It also highlights what that restaurant does best. Convey this by using a combination of descriptors that reference senses and textures (slow-cooked juicy lamb shanks, for instance). You can also describe the cuisine that the dishes belong to (honey-glazed Canadian ham), along with emotional descriptors that serve to attract the customers (sumptuous triple cheese chili fries).


Calculating menu prices can be challenging. Price your dishes too high, and you’ll push customers to another establishment. Price them too low, and you might not make enough profit.

Take some time to research your input costs and target customer profile. To price your items just right, you must know what your competitors charge for the same or similar items.

Factor in overheads, operating costs, and processing fees when deciding on your prices. The trick is to keep your prices within reach of your target customer without compromising quality. Your aim should be to balance expensive and inexpensive items to ensure you can cover your costs and make some profit.

Step 2. Choose a design software

Menu design directly impacts profit margins and the power to eventually determine a restaurant’s success. Therefore, choosing the right design tool is important to create the perfect menu. Busy chefs and restaurant owners have several online restaurant menu maker options to help them do that easily.

Here is our list of the best menu design software available.

  • Canva is one of the easiest menu design software choices available, where even non-designers can create a professional menu based on numerous templates. This online platform has an extensive library of menu design layouts and options. Start with a menu template and customize it with easy-to-use options. If you have some experience, Canva lets you effortlessly create your own designs from scratch. Canva has a free version and a pro version for $119.99 per year.
  • iMenuPro design software is built specifically for menus. It is a great online menu maker option for restaurant owners who don’t have a huge budget. You can start with ready-made templates that are easily customizable. iMenuPro lets you choose and change graphics, fonts, and logos. It’s perfect for those who like the comfort of designing menus on a tablet. This option is just $15 per month.
  • Adobe software allows anyone to create stunning menus with a beautiful selection of curated fonts, colors, and designs. Widely varying themes are available and customizable. Adobe Express lets you design menus that tell beautiful stories. The Starter Plan is free, and it’s $99.99 per year for the full version.
  • Visme has a large collection of templates and stock images and lets you create ready-to-print assets with ease. Use it to quickly customize ready-made samples into stunning, branded menus. This is a one-stop shop for all your design needs, even if you don’t have any design experience. The Base Plan is free, the Standard Plan is $12.25 per month, and the Business Plan is $24.75 per month.
  • PosterMyWall is cloud-based design software that lets you create a stunning menu in no time. The interface is easy to use, and the template collection is vast. With easy customization options, PosterMyWall ensures you don’t need a designer to make a perfect menu. The Basic pack is free, the Premium is $9.95 per month, and the Premium Plus is $29.95 per month.

Step 3. Layout your menu

Customers need clarity from a menu. Without categorization, an entire list of menu items can be overwhelming. Organize your dishes logically and sequentially. For instance, instead of slotting all your items under “Breakfast,” “Appetizers,” or “Lunch,” divide them into sections like “Omelets,” “Soups,” or “Pancakes.”

Select the type of menu that best suits your restaurant

An important consideration behind designing your perfect menu is selecting the right type. Selecting the right type is a strategic decision that can delight customers and work wonders for your bottom line.

There are five primary types of restaurant menus.

  • A la carte. This is a French phrase that means “by the menu.” In other words, items in an a la carte menu are individually priced. Customers can combine several items, but they each need to be ordered separately. This is a good way to give your customers flexibility.
  • Du jour. This is another French phrase that means “of the day.” For instance, “soup du jour” refers to the particular soup that's available today. Du jour menus are usually handwritten on chalkboards or put up on digital display. They are usually offered in combination with a standard menu.
  • Cycle menu. As the name suggests, cycle menu items rotate according to the day of the week, season, or chef’s choice. Cycle menus are a favorite on cruise ships, at resorts, and in restaurants that want to offer a wider selection of items. Smaller establishments that don’t have the space or resources to offer a large menu also prefer cycle menus.
  • Static menu. A static menu is the most widely used type in the restaurant business. It is a large menu with a wide selection of items that are always available. A static menu lists everything that a restaurant has to offer. Static menus give restaurants the ability to offer a consistent experience to customers. You can always add to that experience with a du jour or cyclic menu.
  • Cocktail or beverage menu. Restaurants that offer a selection of drinks and cocktails tend to list them in a separate beverage menu. A good cocktail menu offers a wide range of alcoholic drinks, cocktails, juices, and more. Like food menus, beverage menus may be cyclic, du jour, or static.

Step 4. Design your menu

The best approach to designing a menu is to make it stand out from others, both visually and in terms of the language and content. Remember the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? Pretty much the reverse is true for menus and restaurants.

The perfect menu makes a statement about the restaurant. It should be a snapshot that describes the entire restaurant experience—from food and drinks to ambiance and decor.

With that in mind, here are a few tips for designing your perfect menu.

  • Make it memorable. The first impulse in designing a cafe menu can sometimes be to imitate a successful competitor. However, that strategy is unlikely to work in the long run. Instead, try coming up with a unique idea that connects with your restaurant right away. Make your menu memorable by giving it a distinct design flavor and tone of voice.
  • Use a hierarchy. The average customer usually looks at the top of the menu, then the bottom, and then the middle. Having your high-margin items right at the top is a good idea. Use graphic design tactics like color gradients and bolding to draw the customer’s focus and influence their decision. Finally, put your low-margin items in the middle, where customers are likely to look last.
  • Make it easy. Clutter can be distracting, especially with the limited real estate of a menu. Your design should be easy on the eyes. Avoid visual hurdles like unnecessary underlining, illegible typography, or text-heavy descriptions. Edit text in the menu to keep the overall impression light, so customers have no problem scanning it within a couple of minutes.
  • Be realistic. A well-designed menu means nothing if your dishes don’t live up to expectations. Ensure the restaurant menu design is in keeping with the taste and overall experience of your restaurant. Images are especially important in this regard. Be realistic with both images and descriptions. It’s wiser to exceed customers’ expectations than fall below them.
  • Create a story. Your menu should not be just another bill of fare. Make it gripping by adding short anecdotes about your specials. A great way to do this is with seasonal dishes, which usually have interesting backstories. Pique your customer’s curiosity by having a question relating to one of your dishes. These simple touches can ensure your customers keep coming back.

Attract your target audience

Customers want their menus to be simple, clear, and appropriately categorized. The objective should be to influence the customer and help them make a reasonably quick and easy decision, which is where size comes into play. Customers are likely to lose focus and get lost with menus that are too long. Shorter menus generally work better than those that have too much going on.

Keep your audience in mind when designing your menu. If your target customer is the sophisticated, fine-dining kind, your menu should reflect the same character. For instance, you’ll need a completely different approach if your customer base includes college students.

Use images, fonts, symbols, and colors wisely

Design your menu in a way that reflects your restaurant’s personality. For instance, a Mexican restaurant should have visual elements that reinforce its Mexican heritage, like a picture of an authentic bowl of salsa or a plate of sumptuous home-cooked Mexican food with little sombrero doodles along the borders. The same holds true for an Italian or Indian restaurant. Visual elements are key to establishing a restaurant’s theme and aesthetics. Design your menu in a way that appeals to customers and influences their choices.

  • Images. Make judicious use of high-quality images to connect with your audience. If you plan to market your digital menu through the social media handle of your small business, visual elements can create a measurable increase in the number of customers interested in visiting or ordering take-out from your restaurant. Remember, menu creation goes beyond the actual menu. Customers often have their first look at the food they are about to order from online images. Consider hiring a commercial photographer to ensure your images speak to them.
  • Fonts. Fonts are one of the most unassuming yet integral parts of a restaurant menu. Extensive research on the subject has proven that fonts affect consumer mood and behavior to a large extent. For example, a sleek, italicized font feels inherently sophisticated and feminine. Fine dining restaurants take advantage of this by designing their menus and logos with slender, italic fonts to build on their appeal. As a general rule, you should ensure that your font is aptly spaced, easily readable, and neatly organized throughout the menu.
  • Colors. Different colors have different psychological effects on people. Make sure your color choices fit your brand image and personality. A restaurant with a younger audience will do well with vibrant, upbeat colors. However, a neutral shade will be more suitable for a traditional diner. Smart use of color can make all the difference between an attractive menu and a bland one.
  • Symbols. Symbols and icons effectively draw attention to specific items on your menu. A smartly designed group of symbols helps save space on a menu. It also makes it easier for customers to zero in on their choices faster. However, just like colors, your symbols and icons must be consistent with the restaurant’s overall positioning.

Step 5. Get feedback

Once you’re done designing your menu, it’s time to get some valued feedback on it. Does the menu do justice to your vision for the restaurant? Does it have the desired effect on readers? All these are important questions that you should get your family and friends to answer.

As for the overall quality of the menu, it is a good idea to consult local restaurants and food critics for constructive feedback. These industry professionals will be able to help you streamline your menu and make it print-ready.

Step 6. Order your menu

Now that you have the final menu design ready, it’s time to get it printed. While you can have any local printing service help you with this, it is best to pick a service that specializes in printing restaurant menus. These businesses will be able to assist you better with selecting the perfect paper and printing style for your design. You can either consult other restaurant owners for this or go on the web and conduct your own research to find a service that suits your needs the best.

Work with a designer for best results

If you want a menu that makes your restaurant stand out, hire a skilled professional to design it.

Upwork makes finding the right independent professional the easiest part of this equation. We are the world’s best marketplace for independent talent, connecting businesses with independent professionals and agencies worldwide.

Click here to find the best professional menu designer.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this article. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.


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How to Design a Restaurant Menu: Step-by-Step Guide
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