Aside from word of mouth, a restaurant's menu is perhaps their best marketing tool. When diners consider where to eat on any given night, they might peruse menus on the web, or in your window. It should be easy to read (both graphically and linguistically) and convey your style and personality.
Know your type.
Typography is the visual expression of you, your food, your voice, the type of food you serve, and even how you serve it. If you can't afford a graphic designer to lay out your menus, familiarize yourself with these important do's and don'ts:
DO use simple fonts. Helvitica Thin and Garamond are elegant and easy to read. Overly used and decorative typefaces such as Freestyle Script are harder to read and less original.
DON'T use Multiple Typefaces: It's okay to use 2 different fonts maximum.
DO use a hierarchy. The dish name should be larger or bolder than descriptor, and additions should be the smallest.
DON'T USE ALL CAPS. It reads like you're yelling. And no one likes to be yelled at.
DON'T use Teeny-weeny type sizes. If you have a candle-lit ambiance, increase the point size just a bit for easier reading. If you see a customer pick up the candle to read the menu, it's time for a reprint.
DO keep the lines short. And do not justify the text. A ragged right edge helps with readability and word-spacing issues.
DON'T use photos of food.
DO spell check! Most diners will catch the spelling mistakes that you have overlooked. These small gaffes reflect poorly on your attention to detail.
Choose your words carefully.
- Highlight the key ingredients in the first line and save the more lengthy descriptions for a second (and third) line.
- Avoid trite descriptions. For example, "Fried to Perfection" or "Grilled to Perfection" is overused. Every restaurant has the goal of cooking foods to perfection. And if you need to let your diners know you're doing this, chances are you are not.
- Highlight your strengths: is it seasonal only? Is it an original recipe? Your mom's?
- While naming farmers and sources of ingredients is trendy right now, be careful as to not overdo it on your menu. If every item has its source listed, diners will struggle to know what's in a dish. Instead, consider listing farmers and sources at the bottom of the menu.
- Make sure you have diversity of ingredients and preparations - at least one vegetarian item, a balance of meat and fish, and a balance of fried, grilled, raw and sautéed dishes (unless, of course, your specialty is in one of these areas).
- Keep it simple. This is your résumé. It should not overwhelm. You should have a core group of items that your kitchen does well. If it becomes a laundry list of everything you think you should cook to get customers, this will actually turn customers off.
- Keep offerings relevant. Ditch the mozzarella sticks, jalapeño poppers, grande nachos and chicken fingers. UNLESS you have an ironic take on has-been food, retire it for something a little original that reflects you!
For help refreshing your menu's content and increasing customer satisfaction, please contact me.
This article was co-written with Dan Banks, owner of Project Design Company. For help refreshing your menu's context, email Dan. You can also follow his tweets at @pdctweet.