Designing for Food: The Secrets of Menu Design


Menu design is something that we pride ourselves on here at Nalla. Over the past 8 years, we have worked closely with Greene King Local Pubs, helping them inject new life and consistency into the Premium Local division of the business. We have developed creative solutions that allow individual managerial control over each site, giving them the freedom to tailor individual experiences for their customers. During this time, we have seen the pub and restaurant industry go through many ups and downs (cough austerity, cough Brexit) and we will be sharing what we have learnt along the way and finish with our predictions of the future for this great British institution.

For starters…

Design plays an important role within the restaurant industry, as it does with all industries – it helps communicate brand values and in this highly competitive industry it can help a brand stand apart from its competitors.

In the UK alone, £49 billion was spent in 2017 on eating out (this doesn’t even include alcohol) and if you want a slice of this pie, a well-designed menu is crucial.

Menus are a key piece of collateral for any establishment, they act as commander in chief, dictating our dining experience from how much we spend to influencing our taste buds, tempting us to try something new.

Menus are the one item that customers interact with the most; it’s a no-brainer that a good one will add to the overall brand experience and a bad one could potentially result in either a lack of sales or selling too many low-margin dishes.

The bread and butter of menu design

The basis of menu design is the implementation of typography and typographic hierarchy. Being clear and legible sounds obvious but can be rather difficult to achieve. In our studio we normally describe designing menus as a challenging 1,000-piece picture puzzle. You start to group similar pieces together, ones that at first glance seem to feel right sat side-by-side, but before you know it you’re ramming a piece in saying “YOU WILL FIT” and by the end of the day you will have convinced yourself that it’s really not that odd if starters come after desserts… right?

We don’t just stick a finger in the air and decide that this is how the menu will look; there is a psychology to it. If you Google ‘menu psychology’, you will be inundated with the fine art of laying out menu dishes on a page. Here are some tricks that we cannot live without:


Layout dictates how consumers will move around a menu – for Nalla, menu layouts are decided using a combination of where we want the customer to look with where the eye is naturally drawn to. Placing high ticket items in the sweet spots will give them the most stand-out, as the eye will keep being drawn back there.


Consumers have always been price-conscious, so designs that encourage customers to make decisions purely by price is something that we aim to avoid. Instead of aligning prices down one side of the menu, we sit them with their dish descriptors, encouraging customers to base their choice more on what they fancy to eat as opposed to being swayed by price.

Extremeness Aversion

In addition to pricing, customers tend to be swayed by what they see as being the best ‘deal’. You can use pricing and placement to your advantage; high ticket items act as ‘anchors’, making dishes sat next to them seem more attractive price-wise (despite not being the cheapest on the menu).

Boxing and highlighting

In the new menu for GK Locals we used colour and the use of space to attract customers’ eyes to certain areas of the menu and certain products that GK wished to push. One such area was the newly introduced vegetarian and vegan section. Sounds odd for a pub but this change shows that they’re now catering for the change in customer wants and expectations as more and more people are switching to a meat-free diet.

These are just a few of the design approaches we use when designing menus. All these points relate to printed menus and the experience that customers have in real life but what about online experiences? With the rise of technology, more and more of us are viewing menus on screens.

Our next article in this series will explore this change in behaviour and its effect on the restaurant industry.