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Designing a Menu to Achieve Ambiance

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Each restaurant has a concept, which serves as the driver for all other decisions, from furniture purchases to food selections. Yet many owners neglect to carry their restaurant concept into their menu design. Your menu is the primary sales tool at your establishment, and you want it to communicate effectively with customers. If your menu appears online - on a review site, social media, your website, or an online ordering system - it is a standalone ambassador for your brand, giving customers the first taste of what your restaurant is all about. From theme to formality to company values, your menu should represent your whole restaurant identity.

Menus need to match the ambiance of your establishment to build your brand and promote satisfying dining experiences. For example, when dining at a high-end steakhouse, customers expect to be handed a menu of equal caliber. Heavyweight paper, elegant descriptions, and formal design are hallmarks of fine dining. The perception of fine quality and exceptional meals would be ruined if the server handed out flashy, plastic-coated menus with blurry photos of steak.

Menu Design as an Extension of your Concept

Design Theme: When you start with a menu template at MustHaveMenus, you can select from theme-appropriate designs, like Italian or Deli menus. As you explore design themes, bookmark your favorites and consider how each option would coordinate with your food selections, your decor, your tabletop presentation (do you use menu holders, for example). Choosing a formal design for casual cuisine does not make your food more appealing; it actually creates a brand identity disconnect that confuses customers. If your restaurant has no specific theme, start by asking yourself whether it is casual or formal, family-friendly or adult-centric. Or browse by meal type, such as Breakfast menus.

Menu Colors: The background colors you choose for your menu have a major impact on the overall ambiance your customers experience. Fiery red or orange designs give an impression of spicy entrees and a trendy food selection. Cool blues and sea greens lead customers to a calmer frame of mind and an expectation of smooth flavors with subtle accents. Black and white is a classic choice for high-end food that speaks for itself. Find the background hues which compliment your overall concept and support your menu options.

Menu Fonts: The fonts you select to describe your food choices are equally important. Look to your concept to help in your selection. Calligraphic headings support an intimate, personal establishment and are perfect for a menu that highlights the creative talents of your chef. Scrolled words can add to the elegant tea house ambiance and block lettering carries the theme for a western barbecue restaurant. But fonts should always be legible and suited to your audience - kids menus need sans-serif print, senior menus should have larger fonts and leading, and low-light establishments require larger, cleaner fonts.

Descriptions are Key

Tickle the Senses: Dining is a sensory experience, and menus that appeal to the senses get better sales, whether you're serving up grilled cheese or salmon filet. Tailor your descriptions to your restaurant's style, from classy to playful. A BBQ menu may say 'fried' while a bistro says 'pan-seared'. Infuse your descriptions with passion, and your diners will be inspired to try.

A Cultural Experience: Exotic names, such as Acapulco Chicken, entice customers on an emotional level and engage all the senses for a greater impact. An Italian menu that uses Italian words will lend an air of authenticity that enhances the dining experience. Just be consistent in your vocabulary and succinctly define any terms that might be unfamiliar to your customers.

The Big Picture: Your menu is your chance to communicate with your customers about your special cuisine and the passion you put into it. Think of your menu as the culmination of all your efforts to immerse your customers in the flavors and ambiance of your establishment.

Written by: Caroline Retzer

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