There is a different style of menu design for every kind of restaurant there is — and that’s a lot of them. From high-scale elegance to funky full color, you need to completely understand a restaurant’s vibe before taking their branding to the printed page. It’s one of the most important part of a restaurant’s branding, and one pretty much every customer is going to see.
For this tutorial, we’re going with the fun and contemporary menu. It’s simple, but we wanted to keep the focus on the most important parts of menu design: spacing (especially whitespace), and font use.
Lately we’re seeing a lot of single-page menus, with all of the information you need in one sweet spot. And while it’s possible that you’ll get a company needing multiple pages or a tri-fold brochure style menu, less and less common. If a customer can see all of their options at once, they can make an easier choice — attention spans are hard to capture and keep.
For our menu, we went with the tabloid-sized document, which is about 11 x 17 inches — big and bold, though mostly for display. A good guide is to go a little bit longer than a typical sheet of paper — stretch out that menu and give yourself a little bit of space, whether you’re using it horizontally or vertically.
During our setup we also created a simple three-column grid and a bleed to help us keep our basic design principles and printing processes on point.
Though there’s all sorts of pseudo-science out there telling you about the sweet spot to put your most expensive menu item, it’s mostly been found that people actually read their menus like a book. Left top to right bottom. So the key is to figure out how to divide your dishes up by course and guide the customer through them as they would eat them. Some of the more common options are:
- Columns: often, three is the lucky number, but play around — especially with odd numbers
- List: single-columned list, courses separated by whitespace, lines, or type selection
- Boxes and lines: to creatively separate sections, particularly if there are a lot of them, such as on a tapas menu
In our menu, we put the most emphasis on the main dishes (what people will pay most for, wink wink) and created a hierarchy of type pairing this section with the smaller courses. The main courses, most dominant, spread over two columns. Next in line are the appetizers and sides, listed vertically in their own column, and finally the sides/desserts/coffee, which are smaller and listed at the bottom in a row. We enforce the hierarchy by slightly adjusting the size of the fonts. Then we maintain continuity by using a bold and colored font for the section titles, with a similar but much lighter one for the details.
Notice that we don’t use any dollar signs — a technique used to help customers avoid thinking about how much they’re spending. Research has shown that including a currency symbol near your pricing will make people feel as though they’re spending more money. Another handy tip is, if your prices are lined up in their own column, the consumer will tend more to compare dishes by price rather than by what they want. To combat this, stagger the locations of your prices.
Typography is key in the consideration for any menu. In large part, it’s what the user will be looking at first and most, so the style you choose will set the tone for the ambiance you want to project. Generally, here’s how different typefaces are utilized:
- Script or italic lettering indicate elegance and high class, giving things a bit of a historic feel
- Sans Serif is the contemporary’s best friend, and often the choice for menus that have either a polished or bold look
- Slab Serif is another bold option, maybe a bit grittier than sans serif, making a statement without going so far as to use a novelty font
- Serif can be used in all sorts of contexts, from pairing elegantly with a script font on something more classic, to standing on it’s own in a contemporary context
- Novelty is a good way to mix things up, using a customized font often associated with specific design aesthetics
We used Mohave in bold for the titles, then Baskerville for the lists — the dish name in regular style and the details in italics. The whole menu combines a novelty font with a sans-serif and a serif and an italic, but the different kinds of type share enough common properties that they work well together. The image shown above was a test run, experimenting with different variations on sans-serif fonts. In the end the pairing didn’t work as well as the classic serif/sans-serif we went with for the final.
Finally! Now this stage may come a lot earlier with menu designs that are more image heavy. But in our design flow, we placed the emphasis centrally on the text. Our logo for delish99 is simple and easily functions as the jolt of color and illustration, so we blew it up and put it at the top.
Then to help balance the page and accentuate the color factor, we created a strip at the bottom of the page with the same texture as the logo, in a bright and fun yellow.