Imagine walking into a five-restaurant. The lights are warm and dim enough to not strain your eyes, and the seats make it feel like you’re sitting on clouds. The server glides to your table almost as if he’s floating on a magic carpet. He takes a menu from his side and hands it to you. 

You grab it and feel your hand stick to it immediately as if it’s been caked in food from past customers. Looking past it, you decide to read the menu, but there are over 100s of choices in the smallest font. The thing you notice the most is how expensive the dishes are. The menu is a nightmare compared to what you thought you were walking into.

Places like this exist, believe it or not, but they won’t exist for much longer. If you’re afraid that your menu isn’t designed well enough, or you want to use restaurant menu psychology to engage customers into spending more, then keep reading.

Why Is The Menu Important?

So much goes into making a restaurant appealing. You have to decide on a cuisine, then match the culture to that cuisine. On top of that, you’ve got to design your restaurant with decorations. Needless to say, there’s a lot to be done when managing or opening a restaurant

There’s so much that you could forget about the most important thing: the menu. Is the menu the most important thing? Yes. It’s how you give the customers options to order. Without menus, the world would be in chaos. So, we’ve compiled tips like, “how many items should be on a restaurant menu,” and others. Whether you’re creating a new menu or updating an old one, these are tips you must know.

How Many Items Should Be On A Restaurant Menu?

This is a frequently asked question. Let’s say there are two restaurants. One has a menu with everything under the sun. The other specializes in sushi. Which do you think will be more profitable?

The Sushi restaurant will be more profitable. Sure, the other restaurant may sell sushi too, but they don’t specialize in it. As a matter of fact, they don’t specialize in a single dish. This means all the food would be subpar, and they would lose money on food that isn’t selling. 

Think about it, the sushi restaurant will order raw fish, while the other restaurant will order raw fish and tons of other meat and supplies. Subpar food won’t sell as much as specialty food does. Unless the jack of all trades restaurant freezes food, they’ll keep losing money. So…

Focus Your Menu On What Sells

Pick your cuisine and hone in on it. For those updating their menu, you have an advantage. Find out what dishes are selling best using the food cost formula. Looking at your POS system will give you an even clearer indication of what is selling the best.

If you don’t focus your menu, then you’ll risk losing money. Let’s say you have a margarita pizza on your menu, and you use the finest beefsteak tomatoes to make it; however, your pepperoni pizza costs less to make and it’s ordered more often. At that point you’d be better off lowering your investment in the margarita pizza, so you can explore other dishes.

How To Use Limited Choices To Your Advantage

So, “how many items should be on a restaurant menu?” Seven items. According to Greg Rapp (Menu Engineer),  “When we include over seven items, a guest will be overwhelmed and confused, and when they get confused they’ll typically default to an item they’ve had before.”

The number of items on your menu will come down to what kind of restaurant you want. If you’re shooting for a five-star specialty restaurant, then seven or less would be ideal. A food truck or a sit-down restaurant could benefit from not going above ten. Like Greg said, having too many options can lead to analysis paralysis.

There are also financial benefits to limiting your menu. Having less is more, and that’s especially true in this tip. This will make ordering ingredients faster and cheaper than if you were to have a ton of items on your menu. 

Limited Choices Creates Limitless Advantages

Using limited choices can also help you dictate customers’ choices. Use the rule of threes. For example: Let’s say you sell pizza. The first pizza is a basic cheese pizza. The second is a meat lover’s pizza. The third is a supreme pizza with quality meat, fresh vegetables, and aged hand-tossed dough. 

On the menu, they’re ordered from least expensive to most expensive. Customers that love looking for a deal will opt for the pepperoni pizza. People that love spending on lavish food will buy the supreme pizza. The cheese pizza won’t be picked nearly as much, but you won’t lose money on wasted ingredients since those same ingredients can be used on the other two dishes. 

Making A Scannable Menu

After you’ve decided how many items will be on your restaurant menu, you should make it scannable. By default, a smaller menu will be more scannable. You’re already on the right track if you took our advice from the last tips.

Aaron Allen (Expert Menu Designer) said, “When we look at a menu, our eyes typically move to the middle first, before traveling to the top right corner, and then, finally, to the top left.” So consider setting your menu in three rows. Eyes move to the middle first, so place the best value items there. To the right, place the higher-value options. Last, place the inexpensive dishes to the left.

Selling With Descriptions

restaurant takeaway

Help customers eat with their eyes. Write descriptions with big fancy words that make the dishes seem mouth-watering. Don’t just write cheese pizza. Write, “Cheese Pizza, stretchy homemade mozzarella and aged dough made just for your tastebuds.”

While we’re on that train of thought, did you know that nostalgia sells? Everyone that’s had one probably loves a home-cooked meal. Nothing compares to a dish made by a loved one from a recipe passed down through generations. Why do you think some restaurants list potato soup as Grandma’s potato soup? 

Using nostalgic naming schemes can conjure up forgotten memories in customers, thus giving them a deeper connection to your restaurant. A connection leads to higher return frequency and more word of mouth.

Using Photos On Your Menu

People eat more than words with their eyes. Photos can be pretty scrumptious too. Have you ever scrolled through Instagram and seen a juicy steak marinating in its own juices plus butter with a sprig of rosemary on top? We’ve seen it plenty of times, and it gets us drooling every time. 

Your menu can give customers the same feeling with photos. Considering that your menu is already downsized, fitting pictures in your menu should be easy. You should only have a few. One to three photos is a good number. The goal is to give customers a glimpse at how great the food will taste through their looks. Use the dishes that sell the best in these photos.

Don’t Make Your Menu A Picture Book

Too many photos will turn your menu into a picture book. There are many reasons you don’t want too many photos, including:

  • Taking and Printing High-quality photos cost a lot of money.
  • Too many photos will lead to large menus with multiple pages, which will make it hard for customers to compare prices and dish details.
  • Similar to the first point, reprinting your menu (which you may have to do often since food prices change so often).

Menu Design and Color

Color design can also influence customers’ choices. Next time you’re out, look at all the restaurants (fast-food and diners) that use the colors red, blue, and yellow. We’ll name a few that use these colors, just to jog your memory: McDonald’s, Chik-fil-A, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Dominos, and the list goes on. 

What’s so good about these colors? Blue has a calming effect, red arouses the appetite, and yellow calls for attention. Using all of the colors in conjunction is sure to bring customers into the restaurant. Pairing it with the menu will influence customers’ choices.

(Blue, Red, and Yellow)

How Many Items Should Be On A Restaurant Menu Summarized

You’ve got your answer! Seven or as close as you can get to it is ideal. The tips and strategies listed here are priceless and should be adopted by all restaurants. If you only take a few tips away from this article, then let these be them: 

  • Focus Your Menu On What Sells
  • Limited Choices Creates Limitless Advantages
  • Making A Scannable Menu

Now take these tips and go make a killer menu!


If you want to book a demo to see how EagleOwl can help you with menu engineering and improve your margins, click below to request a demo.

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