Restaurant Menu Design – The Psychology That Feeds Your Choices

The restaurant menu is a list of items that a restaurant offers. We’ve all seen one, pretty basic, right? MAYBE NOT!! Menu design is quite complex and takes into consideration such things as how the reader’s eyes move, how the brain reacts to text, how color effects feelings, and how certain key words or phrases can alter your decisions. Restaurant owners are using design tactics to pull your eyes toward certain items they want you to notice. Let us explain.

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Eye Movement

With a folder menu, the eyes go from top right, to the top left, then towards the middle. This is what’s known as the “Golden Triangle”. The most profitable items will be placed in the top right, appetizers will be placed in top left and salads down from the appetizers.

When viewing a one-page menu the eyes go from middle, to top, to bottom.  High margin items will be placed in the middle to take advantage of a viewers gaze. Good flow is the key to any menu design.

Colors & Type Faces

Different colors create different feelings and motivate behavior. For example, when you read a menu item in green, you think fresh and healthy. Blue is often used to create a calming effect. Besides color, placing high margin items in white space or bolding the text of the item is another tactic used by restaurant owners.

When colors and typefaces are correctly used, a reader’s eyes are naturally pulled there.

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Dish Descriptions

Dish descriptions are written with alot of adjectives to feed the imagination. Phrases like “Grandma’s Apple Pie” or “Home Cooked Meal” appeal to your emotions and give you a sense of nostalgia. Of course you want to eat good food, but you also want to get an experience out of it. Restaurants also use keywords like “Fresh” or “Local”.

These keywords tell the brain that not only is this item good for me, but I’m supporting a good cause as well.  A well-described item and use of the right buzz- words will induce a reader to order from their emotions.

Menu Sections & Decoy Dishes

Within each section of the menu (think appetizer, salad, main dish, and desert) most diners order one of the first two items listed. After that the last item listed is the restaurant’s third most cost-effective dish.

Decoy dishes are a tactic used to offset the price of other items. Of course you’re not going to order the $100 lobster, but it makes the $30 shrimp seem inexpensive. I don’t know…maybe you will order the $100 lobster…Good for you!

Price Listings & A La Carte Options

Restaurant owners often leave behind the dollar sign when listing a food item. By leaving the dollar sign off the reader is not reminded that they’re actually paying for something. Price listings are often directly after the description so one a reader is less likely to spot it.

While ordering A La Carte you don’t think that much about a $3.00 item, even if it ends up costing you more in the end. The same goes for a single glass of wine versus a bottle.

In Conclusion

Next time you sit down at a restaurant take a good look at the menu. Take notice of how your eyes move, how items are grouped together, and how the restaurant feeds on your emotions, motivating your decision. These tactics are not a bad thing and I’m not writing this to bad mouth restaurant owners or menu designers. If you’re a restaurant owner NOT thinking about these design tactics, you could be missing out.

Thanks for reading


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