How to use design to make your restaurant stand out — part 1: food & menus

By Megan Prevost

Even if your restaurant makes the world’s best food, it won’t survive without a solid marketing strategy in place. Most restaurant marketing experts know that customers aren’t simply seeking something to eat; they’re seeking an experience. If you want to create an experience at your restaurant, you’ll want to design and establish your personal brand first.

Your brand encapsulates your restaurant’s identity, story, and values and signifies to the customer what kind of experience they should expect from your restaurant. Establishing a brand involves considering the audience you want to reach and the feeling you want diners to get from eating at your spot.

For your restaurant to stand out, its brand must be identifiable and cohesive across all aspects of your restaurant, including things like your logo, marketing materials, and menus.

Food and menus

It’s likely that, when establishing your restaurant, you first decided what type of food you’ll sell. Be it American, Japanese, Mexican, salads, smoothies, or corndogs, the type of food you sell is a big part of your brand identity.

When it comes to design, numerous aspects of your restaurant’s menu make your specific brand stand alone. Let’s face it — you’re never going to be the only restaurant that serves great pasta! Use these design techniques to help further strengthen your brand identity and uniqueness.

Menu design & layout

You may not realize it, but successfully designing the physical menu you provide customers is no simple job. The layout of menu items, spacing of the sections, colours, fonts, and photos on the menu should be carefully thought out to help your restaurant stand out as totally unique.

Regardless of your brand, your menu layout should never be confusing. A hard-to-read or confusing menu could frustrate customers and confuse staff, making for low-quality service and a generally bad experience. Moreover, it’s a good rule of thumb to have your menu layout mirror the dining experience itself, with appetizers at the top and desserts near the bottom — unless, of course, extravagant desserts and eccentricity are part of your brand, in which case you might be better off listing them first!

Consider the colours, font, and spacing of your menu design as well. The colours should reflect your logo, and the font should be large enough to read easily. If you want your restaurant to stand out as an elegant, sophisticated spot, an uncluttered, sleek menu design with minimal text will help you achieve that feel. Likewise, if you’d like to provide a fun, casual experience for diners, a brightly coloured menu with lots of options would be appropriate. Consider highlighting signature dishes with bright colours or using a template that helps you fit photos alongside menu items.

Menu phrasing 

You’ve likely been to restaurants whose dishes have unconventional or funny names, and you’ve probably also eaten at places whose dishes’ names are as plain and self-explanatory as can be. These are design decisions that, again, should align with your restaurant branding.

Do you want to provide an unpretentious, no-nonsense eating experience? Self-explanatory, generic menu titles and descriptions should suit you well. However, if you want your restaurant to stand out in customers’ minds, creating unique names for your dishes is a great way to do that. Take a dish as self-explanatory as chicken and waffles. Simply adding the name of an owner or a chef to the dish’s title instantly creates a more personal, stand-alone experience — because you can get “chicken and waffles” anywhere. Still, you can’t get “Jodi’s Chicken ‘n’ Waffles” anywhere but at your spot.

The phrases and tone of voice you use on your menu are important aspects of design as well. Stand out as a relatable, chill spot by using a conversational tone or even including a joke or two amongst your menu descriptions — something as simple as “we get it” written next to allergen information can help foster a personal relationship with customers. Distinguish your restaurant as elegant and elite by including little to no menu descriptions at all or by using phrases like “chef’s private selection” to stir up feelings of exclusivity.

Food and drink

It’s not enough to decide what type of food you’ll serve or even exactly what you’ll call each dish. The dishes’ quality and appearance greatly influence how your restaurant stands out in customers’ minds. Design encompasses the plating of your dishes, the garnishes you choose or don’t choose to use, and even the dinnerware it’s served with. 

The same goes for the drinks that you sell. If your restaurant is a no-frills, approachable kind of spot, your drink menu might include the basics like wine, beer, martinis, and margaritas. However, if you’re trying to sell guests a vibrant, party-like experience, you might serve elaborately garnished cocktails in uniquely shaped glasses that align with your brand.

Design your way to success

When customers pick up your restaurant’s menu, they should know more about you than what kind of food you sell — your menu should be designed to ensure that your restaurant stands alone in its experience.

Luckily, this isn’t difficult to achieve! Using an easy-to-read menu template that features carefully selected colours, fonts, and phrases, your restaurant can become one step above the rest.

Megan Prevost is a contributing writer for RestoBiz and a Content Manager for MustHaveMenus. Her work has also appeared in App Institute, Bar Business, Modern Restaurant Management, Small Business Currents, PMQ, FSR, The Daily Fandom, and FanSided.