Designing simple + beautiful menus

flexible menu design

My favorite design projects are those that are creative + add value for my client. Menu design encompasses both. 

Menus can change daily, so you want to set your clients up for success when editing and printing their menus. Your client might be more than willing to pay you for every single edit, but making those menu changes (even weekly) prevents you from moving on with new projects.

So what should you consider when designing a menu?

  1. Make the menu as clear as possible for customers. 
  2. Design the menu in a format that can easily be edited by someone with little design experience. 
  3. Set your client up for success when printing the menu

Let's break these down.

Make the menu as clear as possible for customers. 

The menu should be designed for diners first, always. Testing various menu designs before launching a single design can be a great way to go. Observing how diners interact with the menu is a great idea. Is the menu too large for them to handle? Can everyone read the font size + type? Does switching the placement of each category change sales? Knowing where to properly place items on a menu can improve sales + make the entire ordering process much clearer.

Design a menu in a format that can easily be edited by someone with little design experience. 

While you might think Illustrator is a piece of cake, most of the employees in a restaurant will have no idea what you are talking about. They may only be well-versed in Microsoft, so think about the file type when delivering final designs. 

Set your client up for success when printing the menu.

Ink is crazy expensive. So much so that if your client is printing menus themselves, you may want to avoid ink-ladened designs. If your client is working with a professional printer, you may want to avoid color ink since color prints are pricier.

No matter what, work close with your client to make sure that their branding + budget work with your design vision. Bringing practical advice to the table (like making sure they are thinking about how the menus will be printed!) will make you an invaluable, much-appreciated addition.

3 Simple Design Ideas

Clean

Restaurants that do a great job of keeping it simple include Seattle's Delancey and Essex (that's two different restaurants btw!).  The font is printed in black ink + there are virtually no design elements on the menu. It could not be easier for a designer (or non-designer) to go in and make edits as the menu shifts from day to day.

There are quite a few design elements that work here:

  • One color font // No need to worry about capturing the right hue, black font is as simple as it gets.
  • Simple, black font logo // Do you notice the handwritten "delancey" and "essex" in the examples below? The logos are simple, but again keeps with the simple, clean branding for Delancey and Essex.
  • Clear navigation with subtitles // In the first example image below there are only three categories. "To start", "From the wood oven" and "To finish". They made it stupid simple to order with this menu. The restaurant might even get more order value per customer since each diner can clearly see the menu's progression.

You can take a sneak look at their menus in the images below and check out a sample menu right here.

Clean with two colors

A restaurant that does this expertly is Andrew Carmellini's Lafayette. Their menus have a white base with blue as the accent color. There aren't many moving parts to this menu (besides a few side panels) which would make it easy for staff to go in + make edits to menu items.

 Here's what I like most about this menu:

  • Two complimentary colors // blue + black, it doesn't get simpler! Here's an opportunity to show off the branding of the restaurant, but subtly.
  • Branded logo // The logo pops out since most of the text is blue on their menu. The clean logo fits in with the rest of the menu, but adds a subtle decor + branding element to the page.
  • Side panels // On Lafayette's menu, the side panels group similar items, but allow them to stick out. The border has slight detail, but really is a long rectangle. Here they feature items from the bakery and the café. Side panels provide an opportunity to upsell. A customer might have come in for an omelet, but seeing the tea selection or pastry selection on the same page is effective.

See an example of their menu (+ I dare you not to drool you fool) right over here.

Image via @vickimortan

Image via @carissa_burton

Image via @carissa_burton

Illustrated

Illustrations can either be digital or hand drawn, but they add intrigue + branding to a menu. They are also an opportunity to share values. I first noticed Mason's restaurant on Pinterest, because their illustrations are on point for a modern Southern restaurant.

Sidenote: If anyone is willing to ship me to Nashville for a food tour, I'm game. Back to menu design now. 

The menu design is continued on their website, where you will see simple illustrations that are a nod to their regional influence like a horseshoe or a pear.

Use illustration when:

  • They're well-designed // This is an obvious one, but nothing substitutes beautiful design. If you're not confident in your illustration skills, stick to a text menu. Check out Skillshare if you want to improve upon these skills though!
  • They add, but don't clutter // Sometimes a menu is sparse (think Fuku where there are only a few menu items plus a kick-ass drink menu) so illustrations can add more "content" to the page. Adding illustrations to an already busy menu might not be the best choice.
  • They correspond to the branding // Like for Mason's, the illustrations fit the overall vibe of the restaurant. They don't have illustrations of NY bagels or taxis--that would make no sense. Make sure illustrations thematically fit in with everything from the decor of the space to the items that are on the menu itself.
Image via @hollyacopeland

Image via @hollyacopeland

Image via @cheffrohne

Image via @cheffrohne

There is tremendous pressure to design something unique + completely new. Know that it takes time to develop a creative POV that will set you apart from the pack. Heck, there is even a menu generator because menus do tend to look the same! Even so, I hope that you've taken away a few pointers from this post when you're working on your next menu design project.


Food for thought // Have you designed a menu for a client? Do you have tips you would add to the list?

(I also want to see your design, so tweet it at me {@emilysalshutz} + I can tell you how incredible you are)