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Does Your Restaurant Menu Represent Your Food?

Ugly Menu Design

An ugly menu made by a restaurant operator.

I was out with friends for dinner the other night at a fairly upscale restaurant and was offered a really terrible menu. My friends all know that I have spent the last 30 years working with restaurant operators all over the world building great menus, so they all cringed a little when they got the menu. They asked me what I thought, and at that moment I was thinking: Does your restaurant menu represent your food? And then I said it out loud: “I was just thinking ‘does your menu represent your food?”

How can I put this in a way that you will understand how important this is and not get offended. When your menu is an ugly piece of garbage, it impacts your guest’s food experience. In this case, I ordered the ‘crunch chicken salad’, and found the chicken to be over cooked, and the salad dressing overly sweet. Would I have noticed that if I were not already turned off by the menu? Probably not. I can honestly say that if the menu were on a nice, waterproof sheet with an elegant design, I may have overlooked those slight imperfections. I probably would have thought that the menu does represent the brand, and that the salad was above average in quality.

Why chefs should stick to cooking.

Another Ugly Menu

What’s with all the dots? Makes the menu about price rather than quality.

When I go to a restaurant, I don’t expect to cook. I am going out to get something that is beyond my own capabilities. I’m looking for an experience. And your menu is a part of that experience. In fact, the entire experience comes together to form a brand in my mind. A special happy moment that is of a higher level. The food, companionship, service, food and atmosphere all come together to form a time that will be remembered. And the menu is a huge part of that experience.

When chefs cook and plate their food, they are looking for something special. The plate needs to go out just right and be consistent each time. Beyond that, the guest needs to be excited and satisfied with the entire experience from the moment they are greeted at the door to the time they first see the menu, to the time the food is delivered. If any one of those moments is a misstep, there is a hole in the brand that the guest will fill with criticism. Some of that criticism can emerge as a negative review. And here’s the thing, “positive reviews can encourage an influx of business, while negative ones can significantly impact a restaurant’s reputation and revenue. One research study found that a single negative review can drive away 22% of customers, while three can push the number to 59%.” This is more true of independent restaurant operators because they don’t have a high level of trust and notoriety. They simply are unknown, and people do not like to risk their dinner.

Your Menu is a Tool

Mango Tree Restaurant Menu

HotOperator Design-Engineered

Okay, back to the menu. Take a good look at it and think to yourself: “Does your restaurant menu represent your food?” Thinking further, will this menu make my guests think more highly of my food? If there is any doubt at all, get it serviced. And don’t do what you’ve always done hoping for a different result. 

When you think of your menu as a tool for your ‘salespeople’ to use to sell food, you’ll see your menu as a brochure that represents your brand. You’ll more fully understand that your guests will have a much better idea and experience with your food when your menu is design-engineered properly. 

The Higher The Menu, The Lower The Quality of the Menu?

It’s funny, some of the most horrible menus are from so-called high end restaurants. Almost all of them are a complete disaster. Flimsy slips of paper that come off of a copy machine and flopped on the table without any explanation or introduction. 

Restaurant Menu

A Restaurant Menu You Can Print

This is like your guests start making Béarnaise sauce over filet mignon on their own? It’s a difficult dish, but it doesn’t look that hard when you see it on a plate. How hard can it be, right? It’s just a tarragon-flavored French sauce made from clarified butter, vinegar, shallots, egg yolks and herbs. Simple enough. You can see where this is going. It’s about knowing what you’re good at and leaving the really tough stuff to professionals. You know, like your menu.

Simple Elegance in a Menu is like Béarnaise in a kitchen

Looks easy when it’s done properly. But it’s a bitch to get right when you’re working on it. Staring at the ingredients and getting everything together just right so it doesn’t scramble and make you start over is much more difficult in the process than it is to plate it up.  A great menu is similar. Take a blank piece of paper and make something that’s upscale, beautiful and will make your guests think more highly of your food. 


As an industry, we can do much, much better.

Farm To Table Menu Design

Google Design you can print on your own

Get the right agent to help you. Someone with an experienced staff with menu design and engineering skills. Then, listen to them. It’s easy to think: “But I can save money doing it all myself. Plus, I change my menu nearly every week, sometimes multiple times in a week.” But a great design firm can set the menu up so you can still have a beautiful menu, and change it every week. Hell, every day, if you want to.

Here’s my advice, and I hope you will take this advice: get a professional to work on your menu. Someone with skills and experience. A real high level ‘chef’ in design and writing.

Once Completed, Your Restaurant Menu Will Represent Your Food and Lift your brand.



To get a free consultation, call (920) 420-2076, or click the link!