How to Create a Menu for Your Restaurant

April 23, 2023 — Cloudwaitress

Knowing how to create a menu that’s captivating and well-organized is an essential aspect of running a successful restaurant. A well-designed menu appealingly presents your dishes and reflects your establishment’s personality and brand identity.

Crafting the perfect menu requires attention to detail and understanding your target audience.

You’ll need a strategic approach to showcase your culinary offerings. To create a menu, identify your target audience and conceptualize a theme. Develop a layout, choose fonts and colours, and organize menu items strategically.

Optimize your menu for print, online, and display purposes. Utilize menu creation tools, like Cloudwaitress, for seamless customization and management.

This blog post will provide a step-by-step guide on how to create a menu that effectively represents your restaurant. And we’ll detail why creating a menu for a restaurant attracts potential customers and enhances their overall dining experience.

The power of good restaurant menu design

When you know how to create a restaurant menu, it can be a game-changer for your business. From boosting profits to enhancing the dining experience, a thoughtfully crafted menu can work wonders for your restaurant.

This section will discuss the significance of good restaurant menu design and explore the essential elements that contribute to its success.

Why good menu design matters

  • Profitability: A well-designed menu can guide your guests toward more profitable items, ensuring that they not only enjoy their meal but also contribute positively to your bottom line.
  • Upselling: An effective menu helps your servers upsell by highlighting side dishes, add-ons, and modifiers that can enhance the dining experience and increase check averages.
  • Brand Consistency: A cohesive menu design reflects your brand’s personality, creating a memorable experience that keeps your customers returning.

Key features of a well-designed menu

LegibilityYour menu should be easy to read with a clear font and ample spacing. Choose an attractive yet legible font, and don’t be afraid to use negative space to create a clean, approachable look.
Thoughtful LayoutA menu with a logical and intuitive layout guides guests through their dining experience. Group items based on their intended course (appetizers, mains, desserts), and ensure related items, such as side dishes or pairings, are easily accessible.
Engaging DescriptionsWhether you opt for a minimalist or descriptive approach, your menu should feature enticing descriptions that make your guests’ mouths water without overwhelming them with information.
Allergen IndicatorsIncluding allergen indicators, such as “GF” for gluten-free items or “V” for vegan dishes, can be helpful for guests with dietary restrictions and save time for both guests and servers.

How good menu design enhances the dining experience

  • Your Food Can Sell Itself: A well-designed menu showcases your dishes in a way that entices guests to try new items, whether through minimalist intrigue or detailed descriptions.
  • Make Your Guests Feel At Home: An easy-to-navigate menu creates a sense of comfort, allowing guests to make decisions quickly and focus on enjoying their dining experience.
  • Your Menu as an Elevator Pitch: A cleverly designed menu can communicate your restaurant’s concept and specialties without explicitly stating them. For example, you can tell your guests what your restaurant does best by emphasizing a specific section, such as street tacos.
its mirchi menu - cloudwaitress

How to create a menu for your restaurant

Learning how to create a menu for a restaurant involves a series of steps. These include determining the dishes you’ll serve and perfecting the design and layout. This section will guide you through the process of creating a menu, starting with writing down your menu items.

1. Write down the menu items

Before delving into the design aspects of your menu, it’s crucial to determine all the dishes you plan to serve. Follow these steps to create a comprehensive list of menu items:

  • Choose your platform: Use a platform such as Excel, Google Sheets, or even pen and paper to list all the meals you want to offer. Google Sheets is particularly convenient as it allows for easy editing and automatically saves your progress.
  • Define your restaurant’s concept: By the time you start creating a menu, you should have a clear idea of your restaurant’s overall concept, including the cuisine, target customers, and price points. This understanding will guide your selection of dishes to serve.
  • List your dishes: Once you’ve established the overall concept of your restaurant, begin listing the dishes you want to offer. This step will help you determine the size of your menu and whether you need separate menus for different meals or days of the week.
  • Consider delivery-friendly options: With the increasing popularity of food delivery services, it’s a good idea to create a separate delivery-friendly menu, ensuring that your dishes can be enjoyed by customers who prefer to dine at home.

2. Split menu items into categories

The next step in learning how to create a menu is categorization. Organizing your menu items into logical categories is essential for creating an easy-to-navigate menu that meets your customers’ expectations. Consider the following methods for categorizing your menu items:

  • Group by dish type: Organize dishes into categories, such as soups, sandwiches, and salads. This choice is often suitable for casual restaurants or those with an extensive menu.
  • Group by course: Categorize the menu by courses, like appetizers, salads, main entrées, and desserts. Typically, this works best for more upscale restaurants with smaller menus.
  • Highlight dietary options: If your restaurant offers a variety of vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free options, consider creating dedicated sections for these items, making it easier for customers with alternative diets to find suitable choices.
  • Draw attention to specials: Emphasize limited-time-only specials or seasonal items by placing a box or border around them or positioning them at the center of your page.
  • Create separate menus: Consider creating separate menus for desserts, beverages, or specific mealtimes. This approach can help customers focus on particular sections and prevent overwhelming them with too many choices.

When categorizing your menu, pay attention to the prominence of high-profit and popular dishes. List these items first within each category to increase their visibility and likelihood of being ordered. Additionally, ensure that your categorization style aligns with your restaurant’s overall concept and enhances the dining experience for your customers.

3. Determine menu item prices

Establishing the correct pricing for your menu items is crucial for your restaurant’s success. To determine optimal prices, consider the following steps:

  • Analyze food costs: Understand the costs of ingredients and labour to produce each dish. This will help you set prices that ensure profitability while maintaining customer value.
  • Assess competition: Research the pricing of similar dishes in competing restaurants to ensure your pricing remains competitive and attractive to your target customers.
  • Use data-driven decisions: Utilize menu engineering techniques to analyze restaurant sales data, inventory prices, and food cost percentages. This will help you make informed decisions on menu pricing to maximize profits.
  • Communicate price changes: If you’ve recently increased prices to provide better wages or benefits for your staff, use your menu to explain the reasoning behind the changes. This transparency can help customers understand and appreciate the value of supporting your team.
  • Be strategic with price display: Avoid listing prices in a single column, encouraging customers to compare items based on cost. Instead, place prices in the same line as the dish name and description, using a subtler font and colour to avoid drawing too much attention to the cost.
  • Make price scanning more difficult: Stagger prices and use non-traditional pricing formats to prevent customers from quickly identifying the cheapest items. This encourages diners to choose based on their preferences rather than their wallets.
  • Consider cents and font size: Listing a dish at $13.95 instead of $14 can create the impression of a deal, but it may also signal a focus on price over quality. Adjust the font size and price emphasis according to your restaurant’s desired image.

4. Describe your menu items

Crafting enticing and informative menu item descriptions is essential to learning how to create a menu. Follow these steps to ensure your descriptions enhance your customers’ dining experience:

  • Consult the chef: Speak with the chef who created the dishes to learn about the inspiration, ingredients, and effort behind each menu item. This will help you write genuine and engaging descriptions.
  • Use descriptive adjectives: Incorporate adjectives such as refreshing, crispy, savoury, tangy, and crunchy to create vivid mental images for your customers. Be careful not to overuse them, though.
  • Provide clarity for newcomers: Consider what questions or clarifications guests may need when reading your menu for the first time. Include these details in your descriptions to make the ordering process more straightforward.
  • Cater to dietary needs: Your descriptions should provide information for guests with food allergies or alternative diets, helping them find dishes that suit their needs.
  • Focus on taste and texture: Go beyond listing ingredients and describe the dish’s taste and texture. This will make your descriptions more appetizing and informative.
  • Keep it concise: Write accurate and succinct descriptions that capture the essence of each dish without overwhelming the reader.
  • Match your restaurant’s personality: Ensure your descriptions’ tone complements your restaurant’s brand image, whether formal or casual.
  • Name dishes creatively: Use unique selling points to enhance the names and descriptions of your dishes, making them more appealing to customers.
  • Think like a customer: Include relevant details in your descriptions to address potential customer questions and avoid confusion.
  • Use facts to build authenticity: Incorporate facts about your food, such as its source or background story, to create a sense of authenticity and appeal.
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5. Choose your menu color scheme

Picking a suitable colour scheme for your menu is vital in shaping your restaurant’s brand and influencing your customers’ dining experience. Follow these tips to make an informed decision:

  • Reflect your brand: Choose colours representing your restaurant’s theme and target audience. Your menu’s colour scheme should be consistent with your restaurant’s decor, creating a cohesive dining experience.
  • Consider colour psychology: Different colours can impact diners’ appetites and emotions. For example, red stimulates appetite and encourages impulse eating, while blue is calming but can suppress appetite. Be mindful of these effects when selecting your colours.
  • Complementary colours: Ensure your chosen colours complement each other, creating a visually pleasing and harmonious menu design.
  • Match the atmosphere: Align your colour choices with the ambiance you want to create. For instance, a family-friendly restaurant may opt for bright, playful colours. At the same time, a fine dining establishment might choose more muted, elegant hues.
  • Utilize colour tools: Use online colour tools such as Adobe Colour CC, ColorDot, and ColRD to help you create a cohesive and visually appealing colour scheme.
  • Be mindful of printing costs: If you’re working with a limited budget, consider a black-and-white menu design to save on printing expenses.
  • Colour accents: Use accent colours to draw attention to specific menu items or sections, guiding your customers’ focus to profitable or signature dishes.

Remember, the colours you choose for your menu impact your customers’ experience and help establish your restaurant’s identity.

6. Select the typography for your menu

The choice of typography is crucial when determining how to create a menu. It influences your restaurant’s overall atmosphere and brand perception. Follow these guidelines to make the best decision for your menu:

  • Prioritize readability: Opt for legible fonts that allow customers to easily browse your offerings. Avoid overly decorative or handwritten-style fonts that may be challenging to read.
  • Reflect your restaurant’s personality: The font you choose should align with the atmosphere and character of your establishment. For instance, a clean sans-serif typeface suggests modern cuisine. At the same time, an elegant serif font indicates a more upscale dining experience.
  • Limit your font choices: Restrict your menu design to a maximum of three fonts to prevent visual clutter. This rule applies to both font styles and sizes.
  • Emphasize menu items over prices: Make the font size of your menu items more prominent than the prices. This helps customers focus on the dishes instead of scanning for the least expensive options.
  • Use consistent capitalization and styling: You can use uppercase and bolded letters for item names but use lowercase and regular styling for dish descriptions to maintain a consistent look.
  • Remove dollar signs: Eliminate dollar signs from your menu to encourage more significant purchases, as they can evoke negative associations in customers’ minds.
  • Consider your demographic: Cater to your target audience by adjusting font size accordingly. For instance, if your main clientele is older or young, increase the font size for easier readability.
  • Plan for updates: Design your typography with enough flexibility to accommodate future updates, such as seasonal menu changes, without needing a complete redesign.

7. Consider menu photos

Incorporating photos into your menu design can be a double-edged sword. While images can give customers a better idea of your dishes, they can also clutter your menu and affect its overall quality. Follow these guidelines when deciding whether or not to include photos in your menu:

  • Evaluate the necessity of photos: Determine if your menu truly requires visual representation. If your dishes are well-known or self-explanatory, images may not be necessary.
  • Use high-quality images: If you include photos, ensure they are high-resolution and professionally taken. Grainy or low-quality images will negatively impact customers’ perception of your establishment.
  • Limit the number of photos: Avoid overcrowding your menu with images. Aim to include no more than two photos per page, focusing on your most popular or high-value items.
  • Consider professional food photography: If you own multiple locations or a franchise, investing in a professional food photographer can ensure consistent, high-quality images across all your menus.
  • Seek permission for user-generated content: If you find appealing customer-taken photos on social media platforms like Instagram, ask for permission before using them in your menu design.
  • Focus on dish descriptions: Instead of relying on photos, craft exceptional descriptions to help customers visualize your offerings.
  • Explore alternative visuals: If your menu needs visual flair, consider using illustrations or icons, which can be more appealing and cost-effective than photos.
  • Weigh the costs: Remember that including photos can increase menu production costs, especially if you update your menu frequently.

8. Choose your menu layout

Selecting the ideal menu layout is essential for showcasing your dishes effectively and enticing customers to order. Consider these steps when learning how to create a menu with an appealing and easy-to-navigate layout:

  • Gather input from stakeholders: Share your design ideas with business partners and staff and collaborate to select the most suitable layout that aligns with your restaurant’s brand.
  • Utilize the Golden Triangle: Focus on the middle, top right, and top left areas of your menu, where customers tend to look first. Place popular and high-profit-margin items in these prime spots.
  • Prioritize dishes strategically: Organize your menu sections to reflect the natural flow of a meal, starting with appetizers, then main courses and desserts. Integrate related items near their associated courses, such as sharing dishes or side portions.
  • Emphasize essential items: Highlight specific dishes using boxes, unique typography, colours, shading, illustrations, or asterisks to draw attention to them.
  • Keep your menu concise: Avoid overwhelming customers with lengthy menus. Instead, rotate items periodically, offer occasional specials, or create separate menus for different meals.
  • Consider reading patterns: While some experts recommend prioritizing items at the top and bottom of sections, others suggest that customers read menus like a book, from left to right and top to bottom. Use this information to inform your layout decisions.
  • Create visual sweet spots: Utilize elements like negative space or pops of colour to draw attention to the dishes you want customers to notice and order.
  • Maintain brand consistency: Ensure your menu design aligns with your restaurant’s overall branding. Consider outsourcing the design process to a professional to achieve a polished look.

9. Check and print, publish, or display your menu

shop225 menu - cloudwaitess

Proofread, determine size and quantity, and opt for professional printing

Before printing your menu, proofread it and have someone else review it for errors. Choose the appropriate menu size based on your layout and item count.

Print enough menus for your customers (approximately 75% of your seating capacity for main menus and 50% for dessert menus). Invest in professional printing for a high-quality finish and select a paper type and finish that suits your restaurant’s style.

Request a press proof and adjust

Request a press proof to ensure your menu looks and feels perfect in your restaurant’s setting. Gather feedback from family, friends, staff, or regular customers and make any necessary adjustments before committing to an entire print run.

Publish your menu online with consistency and mobile-friendly design

Create a consistent, detailed, and mobile-friendly online menu. Utilize a menu item spreadsheet to organize your online menu. And consider learning how to create a QR code for a restaurant menu.

This way, you can implement a QR code-based menu for in-restaurant use. Add call-to-action buttons, social media sharing options, and review site links to encourage interaction and keep your online menu current.

Select the right menu cover and display options

Choose a menu cover that provides protection and reflects your restaurant’s quality. Decide between on-table and off-table menu displays based on the dining experience you want to create. For on-table displays, use laminated or synthetic prints and menu holders.

Display your menu outdoors to attract customers

Display your menu outside your restaurant to attract potential customers. Options include display cases, weatherproof signs, or chalkboards. Your choice will depend on your desired atmosphere and budget.

Following these guidelines, you can create a polished, accessible menu that reflects your restaurant’s quality and enhances your guests’ dining experience.

QR codes for online ordering

With Cloudwaitress you can make your own QR codes so that customers dining-in can go straight to your menu with ease and order online. The QR codes automatically bring up your website with the table and/or room number entered into your system.

Creating a restaurant menu with Cloudwaitress

Cloudwaitress is a powerful online platform that helps you efficiently create and manage your restaurant menu. With its wide range of features, you can build a customized and professional menu to cater to your customers’ needs.

With its extensive features and easy-to-use interface, Cloudwaitress is an invaluable tool. It helps modern restaurants optimize their menu offerings and streamline operations. That’s why it’s ideal for restaurants that want to know how to create a digital restaurant menu.

Utilize multiple menus with conditions

Using Cloudwaitress, you can create any number of menus segmented by store locations and conditions, like order types, dates, and times. For example, you can design a lunch menu, a pick-up menu, or a pre-order-only menu. This flexibility allows you to target specific customer groups and optimize your menu offerings.

Offer advanced dish customization

Cloudwaitress enables you to provide various customizable options for each dish, such as meat types, optional sauces, pizza toppings, and build-your-own dishes. This feature allows your customers to tailor their meals according to their preferences, enhancing their dining experience and encouraging repeat business.

Create combo dishes and meals

With Cloudwaitress, you can create dishes that require customers to select a combination of items, perfect for combo meals or meal deals, such as choosing three pizzas and a drink. This feature adds variety to your menu and encourages customers to explore more of your offerings.

Set fixed or variable combo pricing

The platform allows you to set either a fixed price for a combo dish or variable dish prices based on the cost of the different items that make up the combo. This flexibility enables you to create pricing strategies that align with your business objectives and customer expectations.

Manage dish statuses

Using Cloudwaitress, you can flag dishes as out of stock or not available for ordering on a per-location basis. You also have the option to hide dishes from your menu. This feature helps you maintain an up-to-date menu that accurately reflects your current offerings, preventing customer disappointment.

Implement dish tags

Create customizable dish tags with unique colours and icons to represent specific attributes, such as gluten-free, vegan, or spicy. These tags help customers quickly identify dishes that meet their dietary needs or preferences, resulting in a more user-friendly menu.

PoppiTino menu - cloudwaitress

Wrapping up how to create a menu

Understanding how to create a menu that is well-crafted and organized is a powerful skill that can significantly impact your restaurant’s success. Each step plays a crucial role, from understanding your target audience to designing a visually appealing layout.

You can further elevate your menu by paying attention to details, such as dish customization, combo pricing, and dish tags. It’s the ideal way to cater to diverse preferences and needs.

As a restaurateur, investing time and effort into perfecting your menu will help you stand out in a competitive industry. It will also contribute to building a loyal customer base that appreciates and values the dining experience you provide.

Check out more restaurant business resources:


How often should I update my restaurant menu?

There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as it depends on the nature of your restaurant and the seasonality of your ingredients. However, it is generally a good idea to update your menu at least once every quarter or season to keep your offerings fresh and aligned with the availability of seasonal ingredients. Regular menu updates also help keep customers engaged and returning for new culinary experiences.

How can I manage food costs when creating my menu?

To manage food costs effectively, consider using a mix of low-cost and high-cost ingredients in your dishes. Strategically price your menu items by focusing on dishes with higher profit margins and incorporating cross-utilization of ingredients to minimize waste. Regular reviews of your ingredient costs and suppliers can help you make informed decisions and maintain a profitable menu.

How can I create a menu that caters to customers with dietary restrictions or allergies?

To create an inclusive menu, include various dishes catering to different dietary preferences and restrictions, such as vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Clearly indicate dishes that cater to specific dietary requirements using tags or symbols. Furthermore, train your staff to be knowledgeable about your menu and ingredients to assist customers with allergies or dietary restrictions in making informed choices.