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The next time you're out on the dining room floor, watch as guests are handed your menu. Do they glance down at the cover? Open it right up to find something to order?The next time you're out on the dining room floor, watch as guests are handed your menu. Do they glance down at the cover? Open it right up to find something to order? Do they connect with the menu in a tactile, sensory way, feeling the texture of the paper, pausing to read the copy and soak in the graphic images? While the reaction may be subtle, you'll be able to tell how your menu is perceived by your guests, and whether the purest tangible expression of your brand is doing its job.

We've talked about many techniques and strategies for designing a profitable sales tool. But a well-designed menu cover begins its magic the moment it is placed in the hands of the guest. It instantly sets the stage for both the food featured inside, and the entire dining experience to follow.

OK folks, it's time to invest in your menus. No more plastic jackets that become worn, cracked and sticky — even if they prolong the life of the inserts. I recommend a textured 60 lb cover stock or equivalent that feels rich and substantial. Yes, it will get dirty and bent. When it does, toss it immediately and replace it with a crisp, new menu.

You should plan on spending 50¢ per menu to get 4-5 uses max out of each. This may seem expensive, but 10 cents per customer to leave a positive lasting impression is a steal. And the return will be much higher than that from a 10 cent me.

What should you put on the front cover? I boil it down to the 3 C's: Color, Clarity and Content.

  • Color is a must in today's glossy world...unless you have a carefully calculated image that's black & white. Read "Color Me Profitable" for more info on this element.
  • By Clarity, I mean keep it simple, identifiable, uncluttered, reader friendly. "White" space is good, along with your logo, a great graphic or photograph, and some meaningful content. If you choose a background image, make sure that it doesn't overpower the design and is relevant to your brand image.
  • Content on your menu cover is the chance to tell your story...and everyone has a story. Have you been open for ten-plus years, succeeding in the most competitive industry? Do you have a business that has been passed down through generations? Are you in an historic location? Do you win awards? Try crafting your story in 50 to 100 words and place it right on the cover so that people will want to pause and read about you.

How do you know when a menu cover is just right? Much of it is gut instinct. You'll just feel it. You'll also see it on a guest's face when they look at it for the first time.

Here are examples of some of the elements that go into a great menu cover. Dick's Bar & Grill in Minnesota transformed a plain menu cover into a wonderful reflection of its brand and its history. And Harold's Inn in Pennsylvania graced their new and improved menu cover with a poem written for their 50th anniversary.

See also:
Get on the brand wagon


Bill Main is a nationally-recognized author, consultant and speaker. His company, Bill Main & Associates, specializes in strategic growth plans for foodservice entrepreneurs. For information on how you can grow your top line revenues through innovative marketing, menu, leadership and training systems, visit

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