build a better menu


Our Recipe for Designing a Better Guest Experience

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s good advice, but no matter how many times you have heard that, you still do it. We all do, if we are being honest. Have you ever picked up a bottle of wine based on the label design? How about a six­-pack of craft brews? Or literally, the last book you bought?

When we need to make decisions with limited information, we work with what we have available, which quite often is that first, basic visual cue. In the case of restaurants–from QSR chains to mom-­and-­pop establishments to Michelin-­starred restaurants – the menu is one of the very first dining experience indicators. It is that proverbial cover by which guests begin to judge their dining experience. If the menu navigation is easy and pleasant, tantalizing or clever, the guest feels comfortable, engaged, and more likely to judge what comes next (the food!) through a rosier lens. If the menu causes anxiety or confusion, the guest gets a bad taste in his or her mouth even before the first bite.

So we’ve pulled together some suggestions for how to design a better menu and a better guest experience.


Don't let the menu design be an afterthought. It is an important piece of marketing material. If you are in the position of launching a new concept, include menu design at the top of your list of initiatives. Give it the attention it deserves, as it is a powerful tool and vehicle for communication. If you are working within an existing brand construct, take a few steps back and dedicate time and resources to revamping your menu from an informational and aesthetic standpoint. In most cases, as food and style trends shift, your menu should also evolve.


Research released by multiple outlets, including Technomic and the Gallup Poll, indicate that consumers have menu board anxiety and not a lot of time to sift through volumes of dish options and descriptions. Additionally, general guest satisfaction and operational excellence both tend to take a nosedive at chains that offer the “phone book style” menus. So don’t offer the whole kitchen sink. Make thoughtful offerings that resonate with your brand’s core benefit and your guests’ appetites.


If you are successful with simplifying your menu and reducing the number of offerings, you will have more space to better explain the menu items. But don’t over explain what goes into each dish. Rather focus on key ingredients and what makes the dish menu­ and trial­ worthy. Consider making clear section headings and easy-to-­find dish titles mandatory for your menu design, as these may help new or undecided guests find what they are looking for more quickly.

Show expertise.

By focusing on a smaller set of offerings and piquing interest with relatable descriptions, your brand will naturally gain some brownie points as a specialist—or at least a quality provider within the category. Why not take that a step farther? Connect the dots for your guest. This can be done in copy, in artwork, or through a combination of both. Expertise can come in many forms–core ingredient, style of preparation, or style of service, to name a few. Craft and share your story in a place where you have your guests’ (mostly) undivided attention.

Offer customization.

Like everyone else, a hungry guest wants to be heard. They are in your restaurant for a reason, whether it be for convenience, your reputation, or a specific craving, but we all do tend to appreciate the option to express our

individuality. Even if we don’t always exercise it. Customization can also help prevent wear-out for returning guests while maintaining the right balance of core menu simplicity.

Beyond just looking nice, a good menu design sets the table for a great guest experience. It helps guests feel good about choosing your restaurant and provides compelling reasons to return. So don’t waste the real estate and the opportunity to make an impact on your brand and bottom line.