Eating: Menus are First Impressions

My mother in law is opening a little breakfast and lunch cafe in Panama City, Florida. Being that I teach a digital graphics class, she asked if my students could design a menu for her. Real world application is about as high level as learning can get so I developed a rubric and after giving them some tips about good design, I let them get to work.*

The more questions the kids asked the more it got me to thinking about menus. So at the risk of having most of you leave this post while reading this sentence, I’ve decided to rant a little about menus.

Menu’s help make first impressions. And the only way for a restaurant to make an impression is to be readable. As I tell my students, fonts have a voice and choosing the right one will help give a restaurant a voice. Restaurants should stay away from overly decorative fonts. Also restaurants should also stay away from Comic Sans (unless it’s a comic book restaurant). Also, restaurants need to stay away from Papyrus unless you are serving ancient Egyptian or Roman food. Either nice block letters or an elegant script font is all a restaurant needs.

Menu length is important and in this case size does matter but in that smaller is better. When I get a book for a menu, I know I’m not getting a very good meal. It might be ok, but there is no way a restaurant can serve that many things well. One page menus, in my experience, usually mean better food. You see this all the time on Kitchen Nightmares and Restaurant: Impossible. Less is always more.

However, a menu that is one page but filled with type is not the answer either. The brain needs negative space to help keep order. The brain also needs hierarchy. Don’t make the description in the same size font as the name of the dish.

There is one thing that I hate seeing on menus besides all milk-based desserts: Advertisements. I want to order off a menu not a newspaper. If a restaurant needs to resort to doing that, then maybe they should take a long look at their menu and do some editing.

What do you think?

*When the winning menu is finalized, I’ll post it on here.

**For the people who do read this blog, we would like to apologize for the lack of posts lately. ; We will be doing our best to update more regularly.

9 thoughts on “Eating: Menus are First Impressions

    • Exactly. Chains can get away with it because they are more factories then kitchens, but not mom and pop’s. And rarely do you see high end restaurants do more than one page.


      • The first time I ate at Houston’s, I remember thinking it odd that the menu was a single sheet, as opposed to the novella that is the Applebee’s menu, speaking of food factories.


  1. I have my own list of menu pet peeves:
    –typos and misspellings. is it so hard to find a competent proofreader? Superfluous apostrophes show up all over the place: incorrect possessives and plurals, incorrectly used foreign language terms (attention, USA: panino = 1 sandwich, panini = more than one sandwich), and incorrectly used words top my list of peeves.
    –inaccurate descriptions: if the menu says “thick-cut, applewood smoked bacon” and I get a sorry-ass thin strip of Sysco’s finest, I’m an unhappy diner. If your products vary due to costs or suppliers, it is understandable. But you shouldn’t mis-represent the quality of your food.
    –overwrought descriptions: enough already with the “so good, you’ll want to slap your grandma” or “world’s finest” or “hotter than a July afternoon” even cracker barrel doesn’t bother with the folksy, cute stuff on the menu.

    What do I want to see? A clear, serif typeface (easier to read), bumped up a point or two larger than you might think at first glance (not everyone wants to search for their reading glasses), printed in black on light colored paper. Don’t waste money on laminated, colored menus. Nothing’s sadder than a barely-opened cafe with half of the menu items already scratched out or covered by “no longer available” stickers. Just print something simple on paper–buy menu holders if the plain paper isn’t sturdy enough.


    • I forgot all about typos. Another thing that upsets me is designing a menu without thinking about the interior design of the restaurant. Dark restaurants with earth colored menus means my iPhone flash light will be used which in turn makes me look tacky.


  2. Pingback: The Menu for the Captain’s Lady Cafe « Cook. Travel. Eat. The Adventures of Kurt and Cristina

  3. Pingback: Menus I have Known: A Love Story (not) | He Said/She Said NOLA

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s