How Menu Design Can Make You Order Exactly What They Want

"If you think a menu is just the listing of dishes available at a restaurant, we’ve got news for you!"



The psychology behind menu design scientifically shows how the placement of options on a menu can subtly nudge customers to choose specific options. Whether influencing diners to choose pricier items or order more, menus prove how powerful suggestion can be.

Menu Real Estate

Research has identified that menu-readers tend to gaze towards the top right-hand side of the menu first. Known as the sweet spot to those in the industry, this is where a restaurant might place a heavy seller. This is usually the option they want to sell the most. Another trick is negative space; a menu tends to be quite cluttered and our eyes are drawn to open or blank spaces. Putting a high-margin items on their own can draw diners away from the busy text elsewhere in the menu.

Menus are notorious for having decoy dishes – the most expensive dish at the top of the page.

Comparatively, the other dishes seem more reasonably priced. Keep in mind the Goldilocks principle: people tend to prefer the middle option. This means people shy away from the most expensive or least expensive choices on a menu. Sometimes it’s worth it to keep the most expensive item on a menu even if it isn’t a big seller. This can help nudge people towards choosing the second-most-expensive option.

Language is also important. Using superlatives (ex. “the best in the world”) decreases authenticity of the statement – people just don’t believe it. Using words that connect with the imagination is what works on a menu. Also bringing in nostalgic options is very powerful – no wonder Grandma’s apple pie is such a big seller!

A-maze of Numbers

Couples are among the least price-sensitive restaurant-goers– nobody wants seem cheap on a date! Restaurants seem to have figured this out with their “for two” promotions. An expensive item is highlighted as being “for two” so that it doesn’t seem as expensive. Alternatively, it’s priced per person and often the person ordering forgets to double the price.

The way menus list prices can have an impact on how we make decisions. Listing prices in a line on the right-hand side encourages us to tally them up and compare the options numerically. Some restaurants get around this practice by centre-justifying text so that the prices are visually harder to find and thus harder to compare, making it harder to decide based on the price.

Another practice is removing the currency sign completely, lessening emphasis on cost. If you wanted to take it even further, writing the price out in letters can cause us to think less about price and trick us into spending up to thirty percent more!

Visual A-peel

Designers draw your eyes to specific parts of the menu with a treasure trove of tricks. Using big and bold font brings your eyes to items restaurants want to highlight, like a pricey steak dinner. Drawing boxes around specific items also tends to draw in the focus of the reader. These are what the industry calls eye magnets: visual cues that highlight the items the restaurant wants you to see.

Other tricks are shading, colours, dotted lines, and emojis! But be careful! Too many highlights makes the menu hard to read and it loses its effectiveness as a nudging technique. Limit the number of eye magnets to up its effectiveness.

The visual appeal of the menu matters! The average menu read spends approximately 109 seconds eyeing up the options – make the first impression count! Simplicity is often a key factor in the visual appeal of a menu. So is colour. Harnessing colour effectively can increase the emotional reaction to a menu. This is something that goes far beyond mere design choice.

From red a customer might infer feelings of romance, richness, energy; from green a customer might infer harmony, restoration, environmental awareness; and from yellow, optimism, creativity, confidence. Think about the message you want to convey with each choice and use colour, shapes, font, language, and price accordingly.

Pictures can help or hinder depending on the type of restaurant. Since photos in menus has an association with down-market restaurants, including pictures of dishes in an up-market menu might hinder the selection of those options. Mid-market restaurants use pictures effectively and the technique is proven to increase sales of a particular dish by 30%.

Now You Know

Subtle but powerful tools can push people one way or another when making choices from a menu. But restaurants are not the only kind of business that uses menus. So, Marketers, use these tips and tricks to help guide your customers and promote your business to success.



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