Menu Design Tips: New Study Questions Prevailing Restaurant Menu Design Theories

By Brian Montgomery

Since the late seventies when William Doerfler, a graphic designer, published scan-path research in a Cornell University quarterly, many restaurant menus were designed based on the concept that customers' eyes zigzag across the menu pages and usually land on a "sweet spot" just above the middle of the right-hand page. Now, a new study published by Sybil Yang, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management at San Francisco State University turns much of the conventional wisdom on its head.

The study, "Eye Movements on Restaurant Menus: A Revisitation on Gaze Motion and Consumer Scanpaths" appeared in January's International Journal of Hospitality Management, and asserts that most consumers read their menus more like a book (left to right, top to bottom on each page), selecting their main entree first, and then making a second pass on the menu to pick out side dishes and other meal components.

Illustration of how customers read a menu

Yang's research used infrared retinal eye-scanning technology that tracked her subjects' eye movements while reading sample menus. She did, however find that there are some "sour spots" on restaurant menus, namely the bottom of the pages in the right and left-hand corners, which means the Scan-Path theory isn't totally out of line.

So does this mean you should totally overhaul your menu? No, but it perhaps calls into question long-held beliefs about the placement of your most popular or profitable menu items. Of course the physical layout of your menu is just one of many factors that influence your customers' choices.


Among others would be typeface, style, word choice, and the overall look and feel of the menu. Since your menu is a "window" into your kitchen, careful attention to its design and layout can definitely have an impact on your profits.

If you're looking to give your menu an overhaul, why not check out our very own Restaurant Menu Maker? Stop paying over-priced design firms to create your menu, when you can create it yourself for free! With it, you can design, print and publish your menu in three simple steps!

Our FREE Menu Designer Tool

You can either start from scratch, or use our handy Wizard Tool that walks you through the entire process of entering headings, menu items, descriptions, prices and more! You can even insert pictures, logos and graphics. Once you've designed your new menu, you may select one of our themed menu papers to print it out on.

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