Restaurant Menu Design Psychology Tips to Boost Profits

/ Foodservice Tips, Restaurant Tips / August 10

Restaurant Menu Design Psychology - Boosting Profits

The menu is your restaurant’s main sales tool, so engineering it to maximize revenue is crucial. Since small tweaks can lead to big changes, this guide on restaurant menu design psychology gives tips on how to structure your menu to encourage customers to order profitable dishes.

Menu Size

When it comes to physical dimensions and number of items, more isn’t always better. You don’t want to overwhelm your guests, neither with the number of options nor the proportions of the menu. If you’re not sure how big your menu should be, here are a few tips:


  • 30-Something Items – Studies have shown that if people have either too few or too many choices, they’re less likely to make a decision. That’s why restaurant consultants suggest 7 menu items per category, about 35 options in total, for most establishments. 

  • 2 Panels – Consultant Greg Rapp says 2-panel menus are large enough to give the “feeling of a full dining experience” without being overwhelming. If for some reason you can’t fit everything on 3 or 4 pages, consider putting your dessert or drink options on separate menus.

  • 9” x 13” or 8.5” x 11” – While the most common menu size is 9” x 13”, 8.5” x 11” menus are common, too. Although 12” x 18” menus are acceptable, bulky menus are not only hard to hold but also overwhelming, interfering with the decision-making process.


Menu Layout

The layout is an important element of restaurant menu design psychology. By placing your most profitable items where customers are likely to see them, you can encourage customers to order those dishes, boosting revenue. When designing your layout, keep in mind concepts such as:


  • “Sweet Spot” – Traditionally, restaurateurs have put items they wanted to promote in the “golden triangle” formed by the middle, upper-right and upper-left of the menu, the direction in which past research showed that people’s eyes move when reading the menu. Since more modern research suggests that people actually read menus sequentially, a good compromise is to put profitable items at the top of the menu so customers can see them clearly.

  • Visual Cues – In addition to placing profitable menu items in highly-visible areas, you can draw attention to them in other ways, too. Putting a box or circle around an item you really want to promote will grab customers’ attention and encourage them to order it.

  • Strategic Images – If there are no other pictures on a page, adding a photo of a menu item can increase sales by up to 30%. Using a lot of photos decreases their effectiveness, so only include images of dishes you really want people to order.


Restaurant Menu Design Psychology - 2-Panel Menu

Restaurant consultants say that 2-panels is the optimal menu size.


Listing Prices

Once you’ve set menu prices, listing them effectively is one of the most important parts of restaurant menu design psychology. You want to state your prices clearly without having customers dwell on them, so you need to be subtle. Experts usually suggest:


  • No Lists – Although many restaurant menu pages have dishes on the left and prices on the right, a big column of prices makes it easy for customers to compare numbers and make decisions based on how much they’re spending.

  • Blend In – A NeuroscienceMarketing.com article cites a Cornell study in which customers spent less money when menu prices included $ signs. So, it’s a good idea to list prices as just numbers, without the $: don’t rub in the fact that people are about to part with their hard-earned money.

  • Decoy Items – Some restaurants put expensive items at the top of the menu to make the others seem less expensive. Research shows most people order neither the most nor the least expensive dish, so strategically-placed decoys can boost sales of other items.


Get Creative

Even though your menu is essentially a product and price list, adding some color and creativity can boost sales. If you’re not sure where creativity and psychology intersect when it comes to menu design, try including:


  • Appetite-Inducing Colors – Many famous restaurants use red, yellow and orange because warm colors are known to stimulate hunger. If it fits your brand, be sure to incorporate at least one of these colors into your menu design.

  • Appealing Descriptions – Instead of just putting “apple pie” on your menu, adding a description calling it “homestyle apple pie made with orchard-fresh apples and flavorful spices” will make it sound much more appealing and entice customers to order it.

  • Interesting Fonts – While readability is important, using a font with a bit of character can build your brand and encourage future visits. If you’re looking for something more interesting than Arial or Times New Roman, ThePrintAuthority.com has a good list of restaurant menu fonts.


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