A look at the menu

I’m sad to say that while restaurant design has long been admired in the F&B world, it’s only recently that menus have started grabbing the attention of creatives, restaurateurs, investors and diners. Having said that, I think that the days of Arial and Gill Sans splayed across glossy paper are virtually over, with most high-end eateries now giving as much love to their menus as they do to their cuisine and interiors. That makes me a very happy man.

So, what defines a good menu? As with anything design related, ‘good’ is very subjective. Just as I wouldn’t be able to tell you why someone prefers a Matisse over a Picasso, I can’t pinpoint exactly why one person might like a certain menu style over another. What I can tell you, from experience opening a number of restaurants for clients, is the following:

Tactile menus with an easily discernible style are the most attractive… from a purely practical point of view. Why? A hungry and potentially tired guest wants to know what’s on the menu, what the dishes are made with, and how much they cost. Fast.

While a menu needs to be individualistic and really stand out… it also needs to have some connection with the restaurant it’s in. Perhaps the paper is the same colour as the walls. Maybe the menu features the same patterns as the chairs. The font could be the same style as the lettering outside the front door. Perhaps the graphics have been designed to suit the theme. Whatever it is, there needs to be some context.

A menu shouldn’t be too creative… Why? Well, it can lead to a design that’s too elaborate, pricey and even inappropriate. Look at what you’re trying to say with your cuisine and interiors and then translate that into your menu design. Don’t be discreet with dish descriptions… A study from Cornell University found that when a menu item is really descriptive – think ‘Turkish baklava drizzled with organic Greek honey and served alongside homemade vanilla ice cream’ people are 27 percent more likely to order it.

Expand your menu’s vocabulary… According to a study carried out by Professor Dan Jurafsky of California’s Stanford University – who spent months analysing 6,500 menus, from Michelin-starred establishments to cheap roadside diners – dishes described with longer words cost more. The professor said that it was not so much the length of the menu description that was important, but the words within it. According to an article by The Telegraph published in October 2014, ‘cheap restaurants had rambling descriptions but which used easy-to-understand words, while expensive ones tended to be more to-the-point but with more obscure and lengthy culinary terms. By analysing 650,000 dishes in the 6,500 menus he found online, Prof Jurafsky, of California’s Stanford University, calculated a menu with longer words would cost 18 cents (11p) more for every extra letter within them on average.’

Don’t skimp on the details… The materials you select should exude your restaurant’s style, from the paper you choose down to the typeface. The menu is your guest’s first place of contact with you, so to speak. If your steak tartare looks or sounds dull on the menu, how can the customer trust that it’s not just as boring on the plate?

We’re serving fresh ideas all the time. If you fancy a few, feel free to send me a mail at duncan@thecuttingedgeagency.com

Duncan Fraser-Smith is the founder of The Cutting Edge Agency that specialises in the development and creation of benchmark F&B concepts through conceptualisation and training, as well as sourcing and partnering with international brands and high-profile chefs to successfully establish their presence in the Middle East.

Getting Started



Your hospitality roadmap from ‘vision to creation’

Limited to just 10 sessions each month