A menu design can make or break a diner’s experience. Make sure that your menu layouts are the best they can be with these pro tips for designing and producing menus for restaurants, cafes, bars and takeaways.
From integrating photos into your layouts in the right way to creating typography that will knock the socks off customers, these tips will ensure you make mouth-watering menus very time.
Whether you’re designing a menu for a client, a friend or for your own business venture, you’ll find a range of lightbulb-moment tips for creating menu designs that look ultra-professional and suit your restaurant perfectly. Check out more cool menu templates over at Envato Market.
1. Posh Up the One-Sheet
Menus come in all shapes and sizes, with folds or without, in book format or as tri-fold brochures. But menus don’t need to be complicated origami-inspired efforts. Take a deep breath and reconsider the simple, fuss-free appeal of the one-sheet menu.
This format, once the conventional option for children’s menus at family diners, is enjoying a trendy resurgence. The one-sheet is practical—easy to print, easy to dispose of when dirty, can double up as a placemat—which gives the menu a casual air that works incredibly well for cafes, bakeries and ice cream parlours.
Take inspiration from this menu design for a bakery and divide an A4 landscape layout into four columns, keeping text concise and punchy to make the limited space more economical.
Quirky headers and vintage-inspired line drawings make the menu feel more luxurious, without the need to bring in photos.
Team your one-sheet with a clipboard or rest it on a slate board in the center of the table to give the menu an ultra-trendy backdrop that wouldn’t look out of place in a hip restaurant.
2. Divide Up Typographic Designs
Huge blocks of text can be off-putting to a viewer, but typographic menu designs can look stunning with the right treatment.
Divide up your typographic designs with a strong grid, and use banners, ribbons and dividers to separate sections of text and pull out important pieces of information. Will the restaurant have a daily special or a dedicated takeaway number? Make a feature of it by setting it in a frame or banner. It’s a great way of drawing attention, while also making the whole layout seem more symmetrical and attractive.
Making use of banners and ribbons is a perfect way to bring a touch of Americana-style charm to your menu designs, and looks particularly great teamed with slab and retro-style fonts. Take inspiration from this elegantly arranged menu template, which has a distinctly 1920s feel with Art Deco-inspired type and elegant dividers.
You can discover a huge range of easy-to-edit banner and ribbon graphics in some glyph fonts. Try Adhesive Nr. Seven for grungy ribbons that will look super set behind sub-headings, or check out Nexa Rust Extras for vintage-inspired medals, frames and icons, to add a quirky touch to otherwise typographic designs.
3. Make a Little Effort With Photos
What is it that makes certain menus look dated or cheap? Sure, Comic Sans doesn’t help, but the real enemy of a well-designed menu is lazily applied photos.
Particularly for takeaways and casual eateries, photos can be a great way of directing customers to their perfect dish, but so many menus are let down by photos clumsily slapped onto the layout, without even a nice border in sight.
Cutting around the perimeter of the food using Photoshop may be a little time consuming, but it’s well worth doing. Look at how awesome this burger looks on this photo-based menu template, set against a chalkboard background and with a white border skirting around it, giving it collage-like appeal.
If your dishes are too fiddly to cut around, try framing your photos in a unique way, as in this cafe menu, where polaroid-style images have been ‘attached’ to the menu with sticky tape. It looks quirky and cool, and fits perfectly with the overall chalkboard style of the menu.
4. Want to Look Upmarket? Go Minimal
With restaurants becoming increasingly conscious of their branding, particularly with the modern-day necessity to have an online presence, the standard for menu design is continually getting higher and higher. You’ll notice that even local restaurants and cafes are really upping their game with the way they present themselves in print, and menus are a key part of this.
Say a restaurant wants to aim for a more premium niche in the market—the way their menus are designed is going to help them achieve that goal of looking more upmarket. Take inspiration from the strong brands of famous restaurants, like Noma, and use their art-inspired minimalist style to inform your own menu designs.
Take a tip from this minimal menu design and use simple black frames or solid rectangles superimposed over aerial photos of ingredients and dishes.
Stick to a black and white color palette for text and graphics to make your menus feel ultra-luxurious. A well-produced multi-page brochure format for the menu will also make the final product look and feel more expensive.
5. Want to Look On-Trend? Go Hand-Drawn
Graphics and type that have a rough, hand-drawn vibe are really on-trend, and are perfect for menus for pop-up restaurants or food trucks.
Look for chalky finishes, crackled textures and imperfectly drawn borders and frames. Sketch-effect typefaces with chunky uppercase characters look really great on this sort of design. Create your own hand-drawn effects by sketching with thick pens or a soft pencil, scan your designs into your computer, and trace and vectorize them from there.
Get experimental with the baselines of text—try setting type on curved or wavy baselines to achieve an informal, organic look in your typography.
Avoid bright colors, and instead set your designs in a faded color palette of slate grey, brown and antique gold, as in this hip menu design, to complete the hand-crafted style.
6. Make Food Look Fun!
Nobody wants to eat somewhere dull, right?
If your restaurant isn’t trying to be ultra-luxe or ultra-hip, introducing bright pops of color onto your menu design can lift the spirits and make your restaurant look like a fun and enjoyable place to eat.
Brightly colored menus are perfect for bars, fast-food joints and family restaurants.
Rainbow colors bring an optimistic vibe to the dining experience, and they're also a great way of bringing in a country’s colors if the restaurant focusses on a particular national cuisine.
Big, bold typography and bright color* are a match made in menu heaven. Take a tip from this colorful menu template, and play around with the size, tracking and rotation of text to fill your pages with colorful, optimistic mottos and slogans. Stick to a pre-designed grid to keep your text looking balanced.
* Top tip for working with color: Primary brights can be too harsh on the eye, so look at diluting your colors a little to make them work together more harmoniously. Seek out sky and turquoise blues, burnt oranges, jade greens and mustard yellow, and set them in CMYK for a print-friendly result.
7. Think Art Deco for Bar Menus
A cocktail bar can be Eighties tack (we’re looking at you, Tom Cruise in Cocktail circa ‘88) or it can be Bond-girl glamorous. The way you design your bar menus is going to play a big part in glamorising the bar’s brand, and making it the place to be seen.
The Art Deco period is synonymous with the glamorous age of cocktails—think Jay Gatsby sipping a martini overlooking the bay—and its elegant design style makes it the perfect choice for drinks menus.
Although this tropical menu design shows that Art Deco styles work just as well with summery colors and photos, for an authentic Art Deco style choose glamorous metallic foiling, geometric borders and rich, jewel-like colors. With menus like this, you’ll attract glamorous clientele to your bar in no time!
8. Love to Doodle? Use It!
As we touched upon a little earlier, photography on menus can be difficult to get looking just right. You can avoid the problem entirely by doodling instead. Yes, you heard right. Doodling is one of the best (and without a doubt, most fun) trends in menu design—simple, quirky line drawings are decorative and have a vintage-style charm that complements almost every sort of menu.
Get your sketchpad out, take a thin-point black ink pen, and get creative! Doodle ingredients, kitchen equipment, cutlery, plates—anything that will sum up the spirit and cuisine of your restaurant.
Scan in your drawings and edit them in Photoshop to improve contrast and add vintage-style shading and filters. If you choose to vectorize your sketches, this gives you even more flexibility and makes them useful branding assets in their own right, which can be used across logos, business cards and even signage.
Take inspiration from this doodle-laden menu template, which sets some doodles in white, against a chalkboard-style, slate background. This is a lovely effect to make your menu look like a specials board. The doodles add a whimsical touch that really bring the effect to life. Add a single pop of color, like this custard yellow, to your design to modernize the whole effect and make your menus really ‘pop’.
9. Use Color and Pattern to Elegant Effect
If you’re not a big fan of hand-drawing designs or editing photos for your menu design, there are other, more cool and graphic ways of decorating your layout.
Patterns are a lovely way of adding a decorative touch to your menu designs easily. Use Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape or Adobe InDesign to experiment with repeating simple graphic elements over and over, to create intricate-looking patterns. They look impressive, modern, very cool and are surprisingly simple to create.
Look at how effective the wave-like pattern on this seafood menu template is—a simple set of curved lines set in two shades of blue is repeated in rows to create the effect. On a tall, narrow menu like this one, the design looks particularly effective.
Pattern has a timeless quality, compared to photos which can look dated quickly; so it’s a great technique for building a strong brand that’s going to look good for longer.
If you’re designing a menu for a Mexican, Spanish or Japanese restaurant, for example, do some research into local patterns on textiles and ceramics, and imitate the pattern for your menu design. The result will be stylish, culturally relevant and timeless.
10. Read All About It!
If you’re hunting for a menu idea that’s a bit different, there are loads of ways you can transform your menu into something unique and quirky.
Novelty menus are becoming really popular, and they’re a great way of grabbing a customer’s attention. Why not try transforming your menu into another print item—like a travel postcard, cookbook or food magazine?
Take a look at this newspaper menu template, which takes the idea of reading a daily at the diner and makes the newspaper into the menu itself. It’s different, stylish and a great talking point for diners.
Sure, novelty menus might not be the best choice for a serious Michelin-starred establishment, but a fresh, unique idea will work wonders for start-up eateries and quirky cafes.
Get your creative juices flowing, and try to connect the mood and ethos of the restaurant with a novel idea.
Create Mouthwatering Menus Every Time
In this article we’ve looked at 10 handy tips for transforming your menu designs from tired to tasty!
If you’re ever stuck for ideas on how to give your menu designs a boost, just refer to this handy checklist to get you going:
- Posh up the one-sheet. Reconsider the practical appeal of a one-sheet menu and create something that’s functional as well as fabulous.
- Divide up typographic layouts. Use banners, ribbons, dividers, medals and frames to break up text-heavy layouts and draw attention to special dishes and offers.
- Make an effort with photos. Don’t be lazy with your images—cut them out, place them in interesting frames, play around with effects. You’ll be surprised how much difference a little effort will make.
- For upmarket restaurants, use a minimal design. Minimal layouts look arty, stylish and ultra-modern—they’re a great choice for eateries looking to impress.
- For edgy restaurants, try hand-drawn styles. Hand-drawn, chalky typefaces and borders will give hip pop-ups and food trucks a cool, vintage vibe that’s aimed perfectly at their target market.
- Make food look fun with bright colors and bold type—a great style strategy for family restaurants and fun bars.
- Think Art Deco for bar menus. It’s a timeless, elegant style and suits cocktail menus perfectly.
- Get doodling! Simple, quirky line drawings of food and ingredients are awesome alternatives to photos, and look great on vintage-inspired menus.
- Use color and pattern to create an elegant decorative effect with next-to-no effort.
- Try out a novelty menu design to create a talking point. Unique, different ideas will get customers talking and are a great way of boosting business.
Not found your perfect menu here? Discover more menu templates over at Envato Market.