How to Design Versatile, Highly Targeted Catering Menus

Smart menu design can help your catering clients make the right choices and drive stronger profits. A well-designed menu boosts your brand as well as your bottom line. Think of your menu as advertising collateral: every word, photo, and element can bring more orders in. A catering menu needs to be designed carefully – as a key extension of your brand, it must reflect what your catering service is about while highlighting your top dishes.

Key considerations for designing a catering menu

Figure out your target market

Knowing your target market enables you to design your menu for specific market appeal. However, identifying your target market requires research. Remember, your target is the group of people who are most likely to order from your catering business.

Start determining your target market by answering some questions – what needs does your catering service fulfill? Who is most likely to use your service? As you answer this question, consider factors like age, job title, purchasing power and geographical location.

With this information in hand it’s time to profile your target market. Review their attributes, including preferences, priorities, and spending power. The best way to do this is by obtaining data. If you’re using a Catering Management System you can run reports on existing sales – which items are most popular and who are your to spending customers? If you have an email database for existing customers, send out a survey via an email blast to collect demographic data, along with questions regarding catering and menu choices. Correlate the answers and you’ll be well placed to personalise design and copy to appeal to a specific audience.

Make a strong first impression

While individual elements of your menu are important, ensure they come together to create a coherent theme. Customers skimming your menu should receive a strong first impression.

Poor quality photos and layout will weaken your first impression. Align design elements with your overall theme. Keep refining your design until it delivers a powerful visual punch at first glance. Get a second opinion from others if necessary.

Design for eye-scanning patterns

Strategically position items on your menu, as you can use item placement to influence or nudge customers’ choices. The prime real estate on a menu is the top third of the canvas in the center of the menu, with the top right-hand corner known as the sweet spot. This is a good place to highlight expensive items you want to sell more of.

The eye is also drawn to the top right directly across from the first item, followed by the top left in line with the first two items. If your menu continues to a back page, customers are likely to flip over quickly to check it, and so it’s a good position to list your specials. Any large headers you use will also draw customers’ attention.

Divide items into categories

Dividing individual items into categories makes it easier for customers to understand your menu. It also makes it easier to find items. Traditional categories include breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and beverages. You can use non-traditional food categories to highlight your specialties, e.g. Vietnamese Street Food. Always keep the most profitable items on top under each category heading.

Use the menu engineering matrix

Menu Engineering Matrix via MA Innovation Management

Use the menu engineering matrix to work out what to highlight on the menu. Stars are your high profitability, popular items. These should feature in the top third and be highlighted with boxes and other tools. Your plow-horses/cash flows are low profitability, high popularity items. These don’t need highlighting as customers will order these in high volumes.

Puzzles are low popularity, high profitability items and they should be highlighted. Encourage your customer service staff to promote these. Dogs or duds are low popularity, low profitability items. These should be changed or refined to sell at a higher price.

Highlight with eye magnets

Add visual elements – eye magnets – to your menu to highlight individual items. Boxes, dotted lines, graphics, illustrations, blocks of colour, borders, and textured-background shapes draw the eye to designated areas.

Headings, lines, ribbons, and arrows can guide the eye to different areas. Eye magnets can reinforce your menu theme as well, adding to the overall mood or character of your menu.

Use high quality photos

Photos add colour to your menu and they show customers what to expect. Use high quality photos, preferably professional ones. If you use unappealing photos with dimly lit offerings, you could end up turning off customers. Photos should be accurate representations of the dish in terms of presentation and quantity. Add borders to photos for a professional touch. If you can’t afford professional photography, there’s a wealth of high quality stock photography online via sites like Using quality stock photography will yield a much better result than attempting to take photos yourself!

Integrate illustrations and graphics

Incorporate illustrations and graphics to support your overall theme. Graphics communicate in a subliminal way. They can enhance your message and tone, making menu items more appealing and reinforcing trust in your brand.

Choose graphics reflective of your brand personality. For example, hand-drawn designs can help create an on-trend, informal vibe. However, it’s not always necessary to incorporate graphical elements. Minimalist menu designs, for example, don’t rely heavily on graphics or illustration.

Use effective descriptions

Descriptions should be detailed enough to create an impression, but succinct enough for a quick scan. Menus with descriptive language can boost sales by nearly 30 per cent.

If you’re not a writer, hire a professional food writer. Research has shown that the use of descriptive culinary terminology can can boost sales by up to 27%. Sensory, evocative terms such as succulent, tender, crispy and chargrilled will get your customers’ taste buds tingling, whilst cultural terms like traditional, homestyle, rustic or Cajun can improve attitudes towards food and ultimately translate into sales.

Your menu copy should match the overall tone of your business. If you’re an upmarket catering operation servicing corporate customers, avoid being too informal.

Accommodating dietary needs

If your catering operation provides for different dietary needs, include notations in a space-efficient way. You can add a box of special elements or symbols to your menu. Notate menu items with symbols. Customers can refer to the elements box to find vegetarian, dairy free, or gluten-free items.

Use appealing typography

Use typography matching your brand personality. Typography can also be used to enhance headings and separate categories. Use capital letters, bold, and italics to differentiate subheadings, headings, and main text. Experiment with typography to achieve a coherent style. Remember, using too many fonts can lead to a chaotic look if you’re not careful.

Skip the dollar signs

Leave out the dollar signs as this softens the impact of prices. It can help take focus away from the fact customers are spending money. Position is also important. Using a single price column or row encourages customers to compare items based on price alone, so add the price to the end of the description rather than in a straight line.

Another strategy is to highlight less popular expensive items on your menu. These decoy items act as a contrast, making the rest of the menu look reasonably priced.

It’s a good idea to provide prices in terms of “friendly numbers.” Numbers ending in 95 communicate friendliness, so use 19.95 rather than 20.00 or 19.99. Using one decimal point can also take the focus off prices, so you could also opt for 19.5.

FoodStorm customer menus

Now you have a solid grounding in menu design, let’s take a look at some menus. These FoodStorm client menus each have their own unique design strengths.


Nando’s menu uses contrasting colour and block photos to highlight categories and product items. Categories headings are highlighted with blocks of colour and photos. These eye magnets not only add to the celebratory, fun theme of the menu; they make it easier to navigate and find items.

The succinct descriptions are well suited to its target customers – likely people in a hurry for a quick, tasty meal – and eye magnets are numerous. Dollar signs are used and prices feature prominently. However, this is likely deliberate since a casual-dining restaurant like Nando’s offers competitive pricing as a core value proposition.

Elizabeth Andrews

Corporate and event caterer Elizabeth Andrews offers an exquisitely designed menu with professional photos. Headings, subheadings, and descriptions are set against gorgeous, high resolution photos. The menu is similar to a brochure because it gives customers extra information, including advice on how to order for large crowds.

Elizabeth Andrews’s menu captures interest with a vibrant, visually stimulating front page. As the customer scrolls through the menu, they can read about why they should choose this catering company, followed by a profile statement of the general manager. This establishes credibility before readers even reach the menu items.

Categories like hot breakfasts, hot canapes, and sandwiches and rolls are designed to make it easy for customers to find the right menu items. The menu contains a wealth of information but doesn’t compromise on visual appeal or structure.

The menu uses evocative terms like caramelised, crispy, and sautéed in its descriptions. Combined with the colourful professional photos, it allows customers to visualise the look and the taste of menu items. This menu also features an elements box to help customers with special dietary requirements.

The Catering Company

The Catering Company serves a broad market of corporate customers to fundraisers, and its vibrant menu reflects its community focus. Items are divided into categories like corporate eats, all-day conference and seminars, and the social scene. This means customers can easily find items by event type.

The menu is incredibly well-designed and incorporates the use of colour blocking and clean lines to distinguish categories. The silhouette graphics emphasise the wholesome feel of the brand and add a sense of playfulness to the menu.

The mixture of bold, italic, and standard font helps differentiate text without overdoing it, and the subtle inclusion of images of the food helps to visualise what The Catering Company’s diverse offering is really about – fresh, wholesome and quality food.


RocheBros. catering menu is characterised by clean, corporate and straightforward design. The menu is simply formatted with categories clearly defined to help customers navigate the extensive offering.

High quality images have been cleverly used to break up the content, and customers are enlightened to view some of the delicious creations that make up their catering menu.

The copy makes good use of descriptive language, with appropriate terminology used to appeal to potential customers’ tastes – “Classic Italian dessert with vanilla sponge soaked in dark roast espresso coffee, layered with white fluffy whipped cream, and chocolate shavings.”

Design a catering menu that reflects your brand

Designing an effective catering menu is part science and part art. Make it scannable by using headings and graphics. Experiment until you find the right typography for your menu. If you approach menu design as you would business card design, you’ll end up with something reflective of your brand.

FoodStorm provides technology tools help caterers achieve their full potential. If you’re a catering business looking for technology solution for your front and back ends, we can help. Contact us today for a discussion.

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