Menu Writing Explained


Menu Writing Explained

Food lovers have a saying: “We eat first with our eyes.” Of course, that’s absolutely true because we notice our food visually before we even taste a bite. Before even that, however, restaurant diners are presented with the menu, which can and should have its own visual appeal. This is the Art and Science of Menu Writing.

A large part of that visual appeal is the menu’s writing. Consider the many menu elements contributing to how diners will absorb information you present: – fonts, colors, space between each item, writing style, and so on.

Your menu represents your brand. It is your restaurant’s primary marketing tool. To maximize its effects, consider these important menu guidelines:

Identify the Concept

Ensure that your menu items clearly represent your brand. For example, if it’s a quick-service restaurant, reinforce that concept in the images and descriptions of the items.

Menu Engineering

Menu engineering is the study of the profitability and popularity of menu items and how these two factors influence the placement of these items on a menu. The goal is simple: to increase profitability per guest. Typically the goal with menu engineering is to maximize a firm’s profitability by subconsciously encouraging customers to buy what you want them to buy, and discouraging purchase of items you don’t want them to buy. Proper use of menu engineering can increase net profit.

Keep it short and simple.

Simply list major ingredients of different dishes. If applicable, use ethnic names and descriptions to add a bit of authentic flair to the menu description.

Know Your Customers

If your customers are mostly over 50, keep the typeface (font) large enough to read in dim lighting and the design uncluttered. If you’re a family style restaurant, make your menus appealing to children by including colorful artwork, unusual fonts, and lots of boxed items. A white tablecloth setting calls for a more understated, simple yet tasteful design including a good quality paper stock.

Keep in mind current health trends and concerns and prepare the menu accordingly. For example, if low fat, low sodium, low carb, or high protein options are valued by your diners, include them. Regional selections can also ramp up consumer appeal.

Seasonal Selection

While preparing the menu, include and point out menu items and ingredients that reflect the current season and locale. Local ingredients are valued and appreciated.

Quality vs. Quantity

Do not compromise quality with your food offerings. The menu should value and reflect ingredient quality over and above simply the number of ingredients. Best to execute six dishes perfectly than twelve that are so-so.


Set the pricing that reflects the brand position and quality level. Menu costing and pricing is critical to the success of any restaurant


The menu’s language should be universal and easily understood by all.

  • Be clear about your food and outlet concept.
  • If you’re using unusual foreign terms, explain them.
  • Keep menu descriptions concise and simple

Brand Names and Points of Origin

Some customers are brand conscious and prefer to order a known brand, so make sure that any brand that is being advertised is the one served. For example, Coke, Maytag Blue Cheese, Cointreau, Heinz Ketchup, etc.

Dietary of Nutritional Claims

Never claim anything you can’t back up, especially with regard to nutritional information. Menus making health or nutritional claims, such as “Sugar-Free”, must meet FDA standards and nutritional information must be provided upon request. Examples:

  • Low Fat – Must not contain more that 3gms of fat in a standard
  • Heart Healthy: Must be low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
  • No Trans Fat: Must not contain or be prepared with any vegetable shortening or partially hydrogenated oils.

Page Positioning

On three-panel (page) menus, people most often look at the center panel first, and then move counter clockwise. On two-panel (page) menus people most often look at the top right-hand side first. Consider putting your high profit items such as specials or specialty drinks in these spots.

Item Placement

People most often remember and buy the first two items or the last menu item in each menu category. Place your menu items with the highest gross profit in these spots on the menu.


Impact 10 to 15 percent of the space on your menu by boxing menu items. As a general rule box one out of every 8 to 10 items. Boxes draw attention and usually get orders, so it’s best to use them on high-profit items. Too many boxes creates clutter and defeats their ‘attention getting’ purpose.

Hospitality Symbols and Icons

Stars, bullets, or other food symbol icons can make your menu unique and draw attention to menu items that you would prefer to sell. Graphics can set items apart and increase sales on those items as much as 15 percent. (Be careful with the ubiquitous Heart symbol that usually denotes ‘heart-healthy’ as people have learned to translate that into ‘tastes awful’.)


Highlight types of foods by including menu headings such as “Fresh Pasta” or “Our Specialties”rather than using generic terms such as Entrees.

Menu Inserts

Brand your restaurant by offering a specials menu insert that creates a sense of “You can only get this here“. Menu inserts also give your servers something to talk about and keep your menu fresh. Additionally, you can use them to promote high profit specials or new items that could eventually move onto the regular menu.

Keep your menus clean

Customers often associate a dirty menu with a dirty kitchen. They may not walk out this time, but they are less likely to return if your menu isn’t clean and sharp. So keep your menus clean by using protective menu covers that can be washed or replaced

Embrace the White Space

A menu written with clean and uncluttered content allows diners to absorb the information quickly and efficiently. A menu that is overcrowded often leaves the diner frustrated and confused. Embrace white space, which allows the eyes to pause and rest. An ideal menu page should contain no more than 55% content, leaving plenty of space and the widest margins possible.

About The Author Robert Ancill:

Robert Ancill is the CEO of TNI International and The Next Idea Group. Widely considered the ultimate restaurant authority on emerging and frontier markets, Robert is well known as one of America’s leading global restaurant consultants and experts on menu writing and engineering.

Robert sits on several corporate boards of directors, and is regularly quoted in the media on global restaurant and food trends as well as food and restaurant opportunities in emerging and frontier markets. He speaks regularly at conferences on topics relating to international growth opportunities, restaurant concepts, food trends and consumer behavior.

Contact: The Next Idea Group – +1 818 887 7714 /