Nothing says more about a restaurant than the menu. Not only does it convey the culinary vision but also the aesthetic, creativity and overall feel of the concept. The first contact may be with the front desk, but your menu is the one tool in the restaurant that the guest will spend the most time with, which creates an opportunity for a big first impression.

Try to keep it simple, the magic number is seven items per category with no more than 4 or 5 categories including dessert. Do you really need a pizza category? No, you don’t, make it an entrée. It is a proven fact that when presented with more choices it is harder for us to make a decision and this will negatively impact your turn time.

It’s not a balance sheet; dollar signs are for accountants, not menu prices, lose them and ditch the decimals too. For example, a menu item with a printed price of $15.50 should really read as 16 and be placed a few spaces after the description so it doesn’t stand out. Separating the idea of cost from the experience is the goal here and research has shown that guests spend more money on menus without dollar signs in their prices.

Part of every great experience is a story; whether it’s the genesis of the concept, the recipe or the description. It’s a fact that longer descriptions help sell food because the guest has a clear idea of what the dish is and ultimately it gives them less to think about. Try to use longer descriptions for the dishes with the highest margins and guest favorites to encourage repeat business.

Photographs of menu items can actually increase their sales, but that doesn’t mean there should be a photo of every dish. Try to limit the use of photographs and please hire a professional and not your smartphone to take the pictures. Good design and use of space is the key to creating an effective menu. Busy menus are an eyesore; too many photos, descriptions, and graphics can turn a guest off immediately. Make sure your high margin dishes live in a defined space with some room to breathe so the guest’s eyes are drawn to them. Supermarkets have been doing this for years by placing their most profitable items at eye level.

Also make sure not to overlook color, as it affects the brain subconsciously and can impact guest behavior. McDonald’s has known this for years; the color scheme of their restaurants is designed to increase turn time. Even their logo is made up of red and yellow which stimulate appetite and draws the attention of the eye. Just don’t go crazy; two or three complimentary colors that tie into the brand can have a bigger impact than you think.

Another popular trick is to place the most expensive dishes at the top of each category. This creates the perception that everything else on the menu is reasonably priced. This may also benefit you since statistically, guests tend to order the top two menu items per category more than any other. Keep in mind there is a pattern to how menus are read: middle, upper right, upper left. This is where your high margin dishes should go. And it goes without saying, but please do not make your menus illegible; the last thing you want to see in the dining room is a smartphone being used as a flashlight. Your menu should complement the setting.

Using these tricks and tools to create your menu is just part of the process; you still need to test drive it. Once your draft is ready to take it into the dining room, set the lights and take a look. Menus are designed on computers in offices, but they are used in dimly lit dining rooms. Make sure it works before you spend money to print it and roll it out. Your menu can make or break you if you don’t give it the same attention to detail as your cuisine. Bon appetite!