What kind of menu is more functional: with or without photos?

Bonus: 7 menu features that really work

There is no secret that a menu is the main marketing tool in any restaurant. You may have plenty of auxiliary features by which you will be trying to increase you sales: from table stands to bar counter stickers, but the menu is the main catalogue of dishes and drinks as well as other services sales.

For one, the menu is the first thing I evaluate when I get into a restaurant. This is a kind of a mirror of a marketer. The efforts he made show how serious the approach to work in this establishment is. It happens quite often that a competently arranged menu can sell even more than a waiter does.

Creating menus or menu engineering is really a science, a whole branch of restaurant marketing.

How to arrange dishes in the menu in a correct way? What kind of design is more successful? How to make the menu interesting and convenient for your Guest? How to point at complementary sales? How to print/produce the menu to make it presentable and durable? What kind of menu works better: with or without photos?

That is far not the complete list of questions that I hear and have in mind when talking about menus. The last one is, by the way, the most debatable, so let’s try to enlarge upon this point.

So, what kind of menu works better: with or without photos?

I have my strong opinion upon this question, but let’s be impartial and analyze the advantages and disadvantages of each variant. However, before we deal with photos, it’s necessary to clear out some other issues as well.


Right away we should specify what segment of establishments we are going to talk about. The most appropriate is to consider establishments with a low check (fast food), average and more than average checks (democratic restaurants, clubs). These kinds of establishments comprise 90% of the market. That is why we are going to talk about them.

Restaurants and other premium segment Ho.Re.Ca establishments are as a rule distinguished by a short menu (quite often one sheet menu). The public visiting such establishments is mainly prepared.

They can’t be embarrassed with the names like “Palaba defloppe with cacius seeds”. In this case the main criterion is the following credo: Brevity is the soul of wit.

Palaba defloppe with cacius seeds

However, even this kind of establishments has its “rough edges”. In this situation a Restaurateur can set his hopes either upon the Guest’s knowledge or the waiter’s competent work and professionalism; or even upon the will of the Lord that of a Guest will confusedly point at the most expensive dish or will pretend that all those “defloppes” are the most usual food for him, a kind of a pasty, and finally place an order.

Quite often you can come across some establishments where the chef’s talent and the selection of dishes are sharply discordant with the work of service personnel.

This situation finally reminds the parable about the naked king: “Fresh vegetable sauté” turns out to be like the ordinary stew served in school canteens, tiger shrimps, that were described in the name of the dish, are presented on the plate in the singular (after all that’s the calculation!), and udon-noodles resemble some kind of semi-transparent slime…

My opinion even for such establishments is the following: you shouldn’t rely on your waiters’ geniality or a chance. Create a normal sales catalogue – a menu.


The discussion concerning menus with or without photos should be started with defining your Target group. However, no matter if it includes businessmen, students or all of them together, the problem is the following: all people are of various personality types and the way to their wallet is paved only individually every time. The social component of your target group will influence only the style of the layout design.

And so, more details about personality types.

Some people like listening. These are auditory people. Such people easily get into contact with a waiter, it is easier to sell them something while talking to them, they are well affected by advertising inserts into the background music of the establishment.

Visual people like reading and watching. Images are just for them. The correct arrangement of dishes and drinks, precise segmentation of cold appetizers, salads, desserts and other items, text tabulating – all those things will guarantee quick access to the mind of a visual person. They are described as people who “eat with their eyes”. But the competent visual design does not necessarily include only photos and images. Everything is important here: starting from the font weight and ending with the menu background.

Rationalists are Guests who make their choice meticulously; they read and look carefully at every item or image. For this kind of visitors the important things are the description of dishes, indication of portion weight, right spelling and hundreds of other trifles. They are the most difficult to deal with, they know want they want beforehand, and only a successful menu or a good waiter can sell them something more.

Expressionists give in to their impressions. Brightness, brilliance and verbosity are for them. Still it doesn’t mean that the menu must be made as a bright comic puzzle.

As a restaurateur you understand that people who come to your establishment are not merely auditory or merely visual people; any expressionist can become more meticulous than a rationalist in case his financial abilities are limited.

Your public is mixed and while developing your menu everything is important: the arrangement, fonts, dishes descriptions, design. Your task is to create a universal product.


So, let’s assume that you have formed the assortment of dishes and drinks, defined the markup, worked out the technologies. The only thing left is to arrange it into a high-quality selling catalogue, that is a menu.

The rules of menu arrangement dictate the following order of assortment positions:


  1. Cold appetizers (fish, cheese, meat, vegetables)
  2. Salads (fish, cheese, meat, vegetable)
  3. Hot appetizers
  4. Pastries (pizza, bruschetta, sandwiches and so on)
  5. First Courses
  6. Hot dishes
  7. Garnishes
  8. Sauces
  9. Desserts
  10. Fruit

The succession principle for each subsection is simple: fish, cheese, meat, vegetables.


  1. Vodka;
  2. Tinctures: bitter, sweet and fruit liqueurs;
  3. Wines: strong grape wines, table white and red wines, grape semisweet wines, dessert wines;
  4. Champagne;
  5. Cognacs;
  6. Liqueurs;
  7. Cocktails;
  8. Beer;
  9. Mineral and fruit water;
  10. Juices;
  11. Tobacco goods

That’s the way it is supposed to be. Actually, you should remember that the most readable pages of the menu are the first and the last pages. Also you shouldn’t forget about the menu end papers (back sides of covers) in order to save pages.

So tell me, what cold appetizers on the first page can we be talking about, if your profile is a pizza house?

In that way it’s quite all right if something that you want to sell (or something that you are proud of) will be placed in the menu not in order… such a «fault» is possible, of course, in case your restaurant does not have pretensions to Michelin stars.


Thus, we have looked into the target group, formed the menu structure, we realize that people who visit our establishment differ and various things are important for them.

We are working on the layout without images. The main advantage of this menu is its brevity. It is convenient for use.

As a rule such a menu consists of 1 or 2 sheets. A good marketer will provide good navigation over the menu: he will emphasize the names of sections with bold font while the secondary information will be written in a smaller font or italics.

In this case an appetizing description of menu items is brought to the forefront. For example, the item “Olivier salad” must be followed by a comment.

Lazy marketers write something like the following: potatoes, chicken fillet, half-sour pickles, peas, carrots, eggs, seasoning.

I advise you to exert yourself and with the help of description make your Guest imagine the divine Olivier salad that cannot be but eaten.

It looks like the following: the famous substantial salad with boiled vegetables cut into large pieces, tender chicken fillet and special creamy seasoning.

The description of dishes is extremely important in layouts without images. This technique smoothes some possible defects in waiter’s work and in many situations it keeps your Guest from being embarrassed.

The piquant situations like this happen, as a rule, in national cuisine establishments. It’s complicated for a Guest to make sense of what futomaki, temaki and maki are.

And those are just the types of sushi rolls that differ only in their shape. And I don’t even go into all those intricate names that we are not used to.

One conclusion can be drawn: if you decided to make your menu without photos, you should work on the description of dishes and drinks. Don’t turn your catalogue into a banal bachelor’s shopping list.

We are working on the menu with images. Its main advantage is its brilliance and convenience. Very often I come across the situation when a Guest doesn’t even pronounce the names of dishes simply pointing the waiter at the image in the menu.

The main drawback of this kind of menu is its bulkiness. But the number of advantages, that this design form possesses, smoothes all those inconveniences.

If you have a national cuisine establishment and are proud of your dishes’ presentation, it means that a photo is your tool.

The availability of photographs does not release you and your marketer from the necessity to tabulate the text competently, to use bold fonts, vivid description and other good attributes of a good catalogue.

To sum up the discussion on what design is better: with or without images, I want to pay your attention to the work of the world marketing monsters.

Have you seen any iPhone advertisement without a phone image? But it’s as plain as day what iPhone looks like! But no – here is a photo! And a selling description beside.

Or any car advertisement without a car?

I am not talking about McDonald’s, KFC and other restaurant giants with their menus full of dishes illustrations.

Remember: the menu is your selling catalogue and the main marketing tool. So work on it properly!



Guests look at the menu broadside according to the “Reversed Z” principle: top right corner, top left corner, bottom right and then bottom left corner. Place the most important information at the top of the page.


The items that are of greater interest for you should be placed in the first and the last place in the list of dishes and drinks.


Don’t put menu items making a list from the cheapest to the most expensive (or vice versa). Make your Guest get absorbed in the menu, study the assortment and prices searching cheap or expensive items.


Mark the menu items that are of interest for you with special marks. For example: New, Promotion, Spicy, For children, Popular dish, Big portion, Refreshing, Own production and so on.
It helps your Guest not only navigate in the menu faster but also reinforces the impression.


Is there a position that you want to sell more than the others? Write it in a different colour. Just imagine what effect a red title produces in the list of black titles.


In items description you should indicate what they can be combined with the best. For example, grilled lamb carre (perfectly goes with chanterelle garnish, berry sauce and red dry wine)
Or else: “Salami Fungi” pizza (try with extra Parmesan cheese)


There is no secret that people go to restaurants in order to try specialties that can’t be cooked at home. So, give it to them, the more the better. The sign “Specialty” or “Chef’s specialty” will work quite efficiently!

Work on your menu efficiently and ask for help at khorzov.com


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