The 11 Untold Secrets of Menu Design
Restaurants think about more than just whether to add pretty pictures when they’re designing a menu. Except at Denny’s, where the primary focus is Photoshopping Grand Slams to look less like strike-outs.
To give a better understanding of how restaurateurs craft their menus to maximize profits, we talked to Culinary Institute of America (aka the CIA… but not that CIA) instructor Ezra Eichelberger, who has spent the last 23 years teaching students how many appetizers to serve and how to properly spell vinaigrette. After reading these 11 secrets, you’ll never look at a menu the same way again.
1. A CIA study showed that if a dollar sign is used in the price, diners are more likely to buy cheaper options. Even more so for euros or pounds, as those symbols are terrifying to the eye and the wallet.
2. The average time a customer spends on a menu is 109 seconds. Unless they happen to be Nic Cage, and by then they’ve already robbed the restaurant twice.
3. It’s important for the guest to see all the menu items at once, so anything more than a tri-fold is too big. If it’s too bulky, the diner won’t be able to process it, and they’ll give up and order something they don’t really want.
4. If prices are in a column, it will result in price shopping. Stagger them three spaces from the last letter of the menu description without any dots or dashes to draw the customer’s attention away from the fact that they’re paying $20 for roast chicken.
5. A dessert menu should always include the five C’s: citrus, coffee, caramel, chocolate, cheesecake.
6. Desserts shouldn’t be on the main menu. If they see an eye-catching dessert at the beginning of the meal, they’ll often skip an appetizer. Savvy restaurateurs know to surprise the diner with a dessert menu after the main course in order to bask in the profits of both appetizer and dessert sales.
7. Don’t capitalize everything. It’s okay to capitalize the dish name, but for descriptions use lower-case in order to slow down the reader’s eyes and keep them from glossing over the whole menu.
8. The eight biggest allergies are nuts, peanuts, milk, wheat, eggs, fish, shellfish, and soy. It’s important to list these in any component dish descriptions, and equally important to make fun of fake gluten allergies.
9. On a two-page menu, most people will first look just above center on the right page. Next, people look at the first and last items on the list. Loading these areas with your highest profit-margin foods is a dastardly trick, but putting the best dishes in these spots will fool the patrons into really enjoying their meals.
10. Restaurants factor in costs of free items like bread, butter, ketchup, and fortune cookies. A savvy restaurateur will add $.05 for that fancy ramekin of ketchup.
11. A healthy rule of thumb for a balanced menu is 10 apps, 10 mains, and six desserts, with at least one vegetarian app and entree.
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist’s national food and drink team. He now realizes that he hates dollar signs, columns, and fancy ramekins of ketchup. Follow him to frugal advice at @Dannosphere.