Form Follows Function: Practical Considerations for Your Menu
So I totally came up with an opening this morning that I thought was pretty sweet. I thought to myself “Man, that’s pretty sweet.” Then, as I often do when coming up with pretty sweet stuff, I gave myself a mental high five. For a moment I considered jotting it down so I wouldn’t forget before thinking “Man, that’s too sweet to forget.”
Ten minutes later, I couldn’t remember it if you put a gun to my head. Which, obviously, is why you’re stuck with this.
Form Follows Function
Louis Sullivan, famed architect and notable hometown boy (if you live around Chicago, that is), was fond of saying “Form ever follows function.” Well, maybe not fond, but he definitely coined the phrase in an article titled “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered,” which he wrote back in 1896. I really have no idea if he was actually walking around and just dropping it in everyday conversation. But whatever; it’s neither here nor there. In a nutshell it means that a building should primarily be designed around its intended purpose. Which, in hindsight, seems like common sense, but at the time it blew peoples’ minds.
The truncated version of his phrase, form follows function, has since been applied to a more general design context. Historically you’ve often see it in both graphic and industrial design. More recently it’s been applied to software design as well. And today we’re going to talk about it in terms of your menu design.
Now, we’ve already talked about how the design of your menu should reinforce your restaurant’s image. With that behind us at this point, let’s talk about your menu as a physical object that you hand to people.
How many menus are too many menus?
How many different meals do you serve? Breakfast, lunch, dinner? Does your menu change depending on the time of day, or are you one of those awesome Greek places that will serve me a Belgian waffle and thick-cut bacon at 10:00 PM?
If your menu changes throughout the day, consider having multiple menus. Actually, don’t consider it. If, for some strange reason you’re not already, just make it happen. Aside from avoiding all sorts of negative language (“only available before 11:00 AM”), this allows you to focus on select items without diluting your use of eye magnets. It also keeps your menu’s length from getting overwhelming.
If you’re rocking breakfast for dinner, you organizationally have your work cut out for you. At this point, you’re creating multiple menus within your menu. That’s sort of out of the scope of today’s discussion, so we’ll come back to it at a later date.
Beyond having multiple menus for your regular fare, don’t forget drink menus, dessert menus and wine lists. It’s a good idea to keep these separate so they don’t get short shrift from your customers. Just make sure your wait staff is handing them out at appropriate times.
What kind of menu do you want?
As in, what is the physical format going to be?
You have the single page* (big or little). The two-panel. The three-panel. That one that folds out into four panels. Seriously, the list goes on.
But before you run out to have a 4/4 (meaning four colors, front and back) custom-sized menu with a die-cut cover and a spot varnish, let’s think about what you actually need.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- How many items are on your menu? It doesn’t make sense to try to cram a ton of stuff on to a single page anymore than it does to try and stretch your content thin. Also note that just like there are expectations regarding photos on menus, there are expectations about the format of a menu. Upscale places are much more likely to have short, single-page menus than a casual restaurant is.
- How often will it change? If you want flexibility in changing your menu’s items, design, pricing or maybe even meals, you might want to use a portfolio-style menu that you slip your pages into. Beyond flexibility, these also offer durability, so you’re not replacing busted-up menus so often. The most popular menu format is 9″ x 12″, because it holds 8.5″ x 11″ sheets and those are cheap and easy to do.
- What about size? How big do you want it to be? Well, how big are your tables? How many people are you seating? You want to make sure that people aren’t accidentally setting things on fire by knocking into candles or smacking each other in the face because your menus are too big for your space.
*About those single page menus…
The other day we talked about scanpaths for two-panel menus. I neglected to mention that all of the studies I read concerning single-page menus said the same thing: People always start out just above the middle. No arguments with Doerfler on this one. Keep that in mind when designing your menu.
Okay, full disclosure time: when I originally subtitled this section a few seconds ago, I thought I’d have a short list of miscellaneous items to add. Now that I’m typing this, I realize I only have one: printing.
Please have your menu professionally printed. I know there’s a desire to save some money by doing it yourself, but seriously. Have it professionally printed, even if it’s just 8.5 x 11 sheets. You don’t want some low-rent looking inkjet print job on copy paper.
And speaking of paper, there are a ton of different kinds out there. Obviously you can go with a white or cream or whatever, but don’t be afraid to go for something a little more off-the-beaten path. Different textures, colors and finishes can, when properly accounted for in the design phase, really add a lot of production value to your menu as well as help it stand out from the pack. Talk with your printer about your paper options and see what’s feasible from a design and budgetary standpoint.
Okay, so it turns out that maybe I had two different things to talk about: printing and paper. And they’re both related, so maybe I shouldn’t have titled this “miscellany.” Live and learn, I suppose.
I had a little thing here that allowed me to reference the fact that in the movie Big Trouble in Little China, Kurt Russell named his truck the “Porkchop Express.” It was kind of long, though, and a stretch even by my standards, so I figured I’d just say “Porkchop Express” and we can move on now that it’s out of my system.
When it comes to making a killer menu, the sky is really the limit. There are so many different options for physical presentation, let alone actual content layouts that it can be overwhelming. First determine what your needs are, and then design it from there. And if you ever have any questions, you can always call on the crew at Vanee Foods for help. You know how back in the ’90s in the liner notes of Public Enemy albums they’d list Harry Allen as the “Media Assassin?” Okay, maybe you didn’t know, but they did. Well Vanee is like that, only they’re Menu Assassins. Unlike Public Enemy, though, I don’t think Vanee Foods has had any musical collaborations with Anthrax. The band, not the disease. Though I do think that Luke saw Joey Belladonna’s (singer of Anthrax when they were still awesome) solo project once.
They were called Belladonna. Have a good weekend, everyone.