Seven tips to creating an effective menu that sells

By Diane Chiasson

There is a lot of information out there on designing a menu with regards to eye patterns, fonts, layouts, category management, wording and cost. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that your menu is your best marketing tool and to treat it as such.

Having worked as a restaurant and retail consultant for the past 30 years for hundreds of restaurants, convenience and grocery stores and other types of foodservice operations, I can confidently tell you that a well-written and well-designed menu is your most powerful merchandising and marketing tool.

Here are a few tips for creating an effective menu that sells:

1.  Use colours to enhance your menu

The colours you select for both your printed menus and menu boards should be warm and inviting, and should match the branding of your operation. They should also complement your interior design, quality of food and price range. Use a maximum of three colours, and make sure the colours give enough contrast so your menu stands out. Your menu boards need to be properly lit as well. More than any other aspect of the menu, colour has a definite psychological purpose that not only stimulates the appetite, but calls attention to particular foods. For example, a green background sells fresh soups and salads, a yellow background sells breakfast items and a red background sells desserts. As part of your branding, your logo should appear frequently on your menu. Your brand should be prominently featured in your uniforms, décor and promotional materials that complement your menu design.

2.  Include product origins in your menu descriptions

On May 23, 2015, hundreds of thousands of concerned individuals gathered across 38 countries and 428 cities to join in peaceful protests against the Monsanto Company and its genetically modified food products and pesticides. Customers today are more concerned about where their food comes from and how it was grown, so make sure you put this information in your menu description where you are using good quality and local suppliers. For example, a menu description for a burger could read, “Grain fed beef with no antibiotics from XYZ Farms on a seven-grain organic roll from ABC Bakery.”

3.  Make it user-friendly

Ensure that your menu is user-friendly. If you offer too many items and choices, you end up confusing your customers. One way of doing this is to have separate menus for your drinks and desserts. These items can get lost in your main menu, but will attract more attention on their own – especially with photos. Meal combinations are also a good way of both up-selling extra items and helping your customers make quick decisions.

4.  Use local foods on your menu

Using local produce allows you to add variety to your restaurant menu, changing it with the seasons and is a good marketing tool. Today, this goes beyond just fruits and vegetables. It can refer to sustainable beef and seafood, artisan foods, homemade desserts or hyper-local restaurant gardens. Local foods are often fresher, taste better, offer more variety and protect the environment: all reasons that will win with your clientele. Add terms like locally-grown and fresh from the farm to your menu description and watch these items fly out of the kitchen.

5.  Don’t use a menu that is out of date

Don’t use the same menu that you have had in your restaurant for the past 10 years. Update your menu regularly, preferably to fit the different seasons featuring fresh or local foods. Keep all your signature dishes and customer favourites, but take the opportunity to try out new menu items by first offering them as appetizers. If they get good reviews, then make it an entree on your next menu revision. You can also offer daily specials. Consider adding the specials that received the best feedback onto the menu permanently.

6.  Be aware of your kitchen’s performance level

If you try to offer a large and complex menu out of a tiny commercial kitchen you may run into serious problems during lunch and dinner rushes. Your restaurant kitchen should be between 15 to 25 per cent of the total space in your restaurant. Any smaller and you run the risk of limiting how much you can serve during a shift. Any larger and you are wasting prime real estate that could be used for customer seating. The bigger the kitchen, the more menu items you should consider offering.

7.  Train your staff

A good menu is most effective when combined with well-trained and knowledgeable staff. Make sure your staff knows your menu inside and out, and gets the opportunity to taste everything on the menu so that they can make recommendations to undecided customers. Your staff should also be able to answer any possible question a customer might have about the menu.

About the author:

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 25 years. She is recognized as the industry leader in providing innovative and revenue-increasing foodservice and retail merchandising programs, interior design, branding, menu engineering, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at 416-926-1338, toll-free at 1-888-926-6655 or, or visit

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