Select Page
9 min read

Is your menu making you money? Are you selling the items you with the highest margins? Are you accenting your signature dishes? This month we will be focusing on the science behind important parts of your restaurant. And today, we’re going to focus on menu layout psychology.

Before you lay out your menu, you should have an idea of the items you wish to sell and the items that make you the most money. Take a look at your point-of-sale (POS) reports to see which items are popular and compare that to items that make you the most money. If you have an item that is popular and you make a high margin on it, this is an item you will want to feature heavily. For each category of your menu you should know which items have the greatest margins and which have the poorest.

Page Placement

Sections on your menu should be arranged in order of the parts of the meal. For instance, start with appetizers, work your way through to salads, sandwiches, burgers, then heartier entrees, and dessert. By doing this customers are able to easily locate the category there looking for. The only exception to this is if you are trying to distract the customer into ordering from a less popular category. If you serve breakfast at your restaurant you can go in order of meal time such as breakfast, lunch, and then dinner.

Your best placement is on the right hand first page, in the right column, just above the center of the page. This is location that you’re eyes are most likely to fall. Your premium item should be in this location and preferably boxed (see below). For left hand pages, its just above center on the left column. You can use these positions on all pages of you menu to give the greatest focus to the items you wish to sell.

Section Placement

The first, last, and second menu item in each section will be the most viewed items in the section, in that order. These items should be the ones that hold the highest margin. Next is the top and bottom of each column. These items should be popular items that still hold a decent margin. This allows those items to be easy to find while still allowing for distraction with the higher margin items. Low margin items that have a decent following can be sprinkled in and hiding between those more popular positions. If an item is not very profitable or not very popular, eliminate it from the menu.

Boxing and Shading

As you create the menu and you have your sections laid out, you will want to feature your most profitable items. These items should be boxed (a square is drawn around them). Your second most profitable items should be shaded. This will bring the maximum attention to those items giving you the greatest chance of selling one of them.


When putting pricing on the menu the old standard of ending with .95 or .99 doesn’t work any more. It doesn’t fool anybody into thinking that the item is a dollar less because we’ve all been accustomed to noticing it for decades. Therefore, you might as well make the extra $0.05. Your best bet is to actually put the price of the item as a single digit, such as 9 for nine dollars. For items where you do not wish to charge a full dollar more you should put a decimal point and the remainder. Try to stick to only half dollars with this method though, such as 8.5 for eight dollars and fifty cents. Leaving the dollar sign off has shown to produce less anxiety over pricing and yield happier guests.


If you chose to put pictures on your menu, be sure they are professionally taken. Poor pictures of your food will do more to hurt than help. If you can’t get great pictures don’t put any pictures on your menu or around your restaurant.

Don’t use stock photos. If it’s not a picture of an entree you made in your restaurant, don’t use it. 99% of the time these are noticeably stock photos and makes customers wonder what you are hiding by not showing a picture of the actual food. Further, if you do happen to fool the guest into thinking it’s your food, the customer is going to be thoroughly disappointed when the food comes out and doesn’t look like the picture.

If you do have professional photos and wish to put them on your menu, work with a professional designer to fade them into the layout of your menu appropriately as opposed to just putting a square box with the picture in it. Photos should entice not detract. Use photos sparingly and only of your best looking and most profitable items. I recommend no more than 3 pictures per page with an ideal being one per section or even one per page. The cover may also include a picture or two if designed properly.

Finally, make sure the items you get professional pictures of are items you plan to carry for a long time. It’s a waste of money and time to continue to redesign your menu because you no longer carry the Flaming Hot Habanero Burger that you decided to feature on the cover.

Other Features

Other features you can include on your menu are icons that signify items that you specialize in or that meet specific dietary needs. For instance, you can include an icon next to items that are gluten free or vegetarian. Alternatively, if you are a restaurant that specializes in signature homemade sauces, you could put a special icon next to items that include those sauces.

Further, if you have room on your menu that you are trying to fill, you can put on a small section about the history of your restaurant or your philosophy. Only put this on your menu if you need to fill space. This section can be helpful if you have slower service at your restaurant as people will read this section well awaiting the server to return. This section should be put in a lower section on a left hand page of your menu as to not distract guests into reading your history instead of choosing a menu item, thereby slowing service.

Helpful Factors

Leave plenty of white space on your menu as it allows the eyes to rest and makes your menu easier to read. Additionally make sure the text on your menu is large enough to read in your lighting. Apply clear headers to each section to make menu items easy to find.

Your cover should not have any listed menu items on it as this makes it look more like a newspaper then a menu and makes your restaurant look unprofessional. If you run a formal restaurant leave the back empty as well and have your menu in a nice holder or book.

If you are in a less formal restaurant it is okay to put items on the back page. Some helpful items for the backpage may include desserts or drinks as these are items that guests will typically look for there. Further, by having desserts on the back page you can cause customers to consider saving room for desserts when they see them.

This should be obvious, but you should not have any items on your menu that lose you money. Oftentimes, I’ve heard the phrase ‘loss leader’, however this should refer to items that are popular and lead people to order other items, but are items that you still make some money on. Having items on your menu that lose you money, especially popular ones, is a quick way to put yourself out of business.

Many restaurants have thought to put their menu items into convenient sections, however many restaurants have not thought about where to place items within the sections to return the greatest profitability. With a little restructuring you will be able to sell the items that make you the most money and feature the items you want to be best known for.