Woman in a restaurant picking her meal from a great menu

At the best restaurants, great food speaks for itself. But successful restaurants also know how to help their guests find the best dishes–and how to guide them to the dishes with the highest margins.

In this competitive world, successful restaurants put as much energy into their menu design as they do their actual menu in order to help guests enjoy the dining experience they have envisioned. To uncover these secrets, we analyzed hundreds of customer menus to distill a handful of data-backed secrets that allow restaurants to serve up a menu sure to impress their guests. It turns out, there are some clever psychological tricks restaurants can employ to help their guests choose their best performers. With guests spending an average of only 109 seconds perusing a menu, restaurants have a limited window to make that impression.

Our data found that one photo next to a menu item increases sales by 30 percent.

 

Here are the top takeaways restaurants should consider when designing a winning menu:

Don’t (Over) Use Photos

Our data found that one photo next to a menu item increases sales by 30 percent. With that in mind, there is no reason not to use photos for as many menu items as design and space allows, as long as you are being thoughtful about it. A good rule of thumb? One photo per page, next to the item you want to sell the most.

Use Complex Descriptions and Evocative Labels

In this case, less isn’t more: Longer menu descriptions sell more food – 30 percent more food. The more you describe it to a guest, the less they have to think about it. Detailed menu item descriptions draw the guests’ attention away from price, and improve the perception of value. Here are some tricks from the most successful menus:

  • Use words that have a mouth-watering effect, like “tender,” “golden,” and “natural,” which can positively affect guests’ choice of menu items.
  • Make your menu items with the highest profit margin or repeat guest count stand out with longer descriptions to capture attention even faster.
  • Evocative, suggestive dish names can increase sales by as much as 25 percent.
  • Creative labels generate more positive comments after people consume the food — indicating that the label impacts not only the likelihood someone might choose an item, but also their enjoyment in consuming the item. Use labels that are geographic, sensory, and branded.

Couple Having Dinner Date at Restaurant

Take Advantage of White Space

When a menu is jam-packed with a ton of lengthy descriptions, your guests’ eyes are drawn to the white spaces. Use this to your advantage! Items with the largest profit margins deserve their own space based on this psychology, so create your own white space: Put a box around high-profit items and create white space for them. This draws guests’ eyes right to the items you are looking to get them to pay attention to.

Follow Those Wandering Eyes

Supermarkets and retail stores are great at putting their most profitable items at eye level, and the same can be done with your restaurant menu. Where are your guests’ eyes wandering? The upper right corner. Use that prime real estate to your advantage.

Your menu is the only communication with your guests that 100 percent of them will see, so it pays to get it right.

 

Color the Imagination

The colors on your menu have an impact on what your guests order. Have you ever wondered why so many restaurant menus utilize red and yellow? Red stimulates appetite and yellow draws our attention.  Blue icons or images can be helpful in selling seafood. Green can be helpful in selling vegetables.

Your menu is the only communication with your guests that 100 percent of them will see, so it pays to get it right. Check out our infographic on The Science of Restaurant Menus to learn even more about how to design a menu that will give your guests the ultimate dining experience, and help your restaurant sell more of your best items.

Check out Upserve’s Menu Template Builder!

80% of a restaurant’s food sales come from only 16% of menu items. How do you know which ones? The perfect menu is just a click away with Upserve's Menu Builder.

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When she's not debating with her young sons about which Star Wars character is the best one, Carol Lin is likely to be ordering a Lychee martini and spicy tuna roll at her neighborhood sushi joint. She loves controversial (but delicious) foods like foie gras and haggis, and believes there’s few problems that a conversation over buffalo wings and cold beer can’t solve.