Images and photos are a great way to add pop to your menu design. As the first thing your clients will notice about your menu, graphics are a key part to shaping how they feel about your business. Eye-catching imagery instantly communicates details about your brand and your offerings. When you design a menu, you’ll want to consider how to best use graphics and imagery to create the right experience for your customers.

There are many types of menu graphics: company logo, photos of your food, building, or staff, and art such as backgrounds, accents, icons. In an effective menu design, all of this imagery works together to create a coherent brand identity. When used ineffectively, graphics can set the wrong tone for your customers and contribute to a negative experience.

Follow these guidelines for best use of graphics:

Build Your Brand

Your logo and design create and reflect your brand. Every graphic on your menu contributes to that identity. A cutting-edge urban bistro will use imagery much differently than a casual dive bar. Consider how your imagery fits with the tone of your business. It’s all too common to see high-end establishments with menu designs that seem much too casual, or family-style diners with sparse, formal menus. Ideally, the menu should perfectly mirror the atmosphere and priorities of your business.

Consider the Context

Within your overall brand, you may have some unique contexts. For example, photos may be more appropriate on a breakfast menu than on your wine list. If your dinner service is more formal than your lunch service, use subtler, more sophisticated graphics on the dinner menu. For special menus or seasonal promotions, you may choose to leave off your logo and stick to a simple header. Consider the tone you are trying to create for each menu.

Good Photos Tell a Story

Photos can create a story for your diners about your restaurant’s values and priorities, from food to family history, live music events or community outreach. Delicious food photos kickstart your customers’ cravings and can be a key strategy to upsell your most popular or profitable items. Use photos selectively, and be conscious of what they communicate about your brand.

Bad Photos Hurt Your Brand

Bad photos-- unappetizing food, poor lighting, distracting backgrounds, or confusing imagery--actually hurt your brand by kicking off your diners’ experience with a negative bias. If you don’t have great photos on hand, consider stock photos or hiring a professional photographer to get some expert shots, or skip them altogether. This is also a good opportunity to poll some trusted customers or friends for honest feedback on any photos you want to include.

Prioritize Your Customers’ Attention

Graphics are inherently eye-catching. Your customers will notice the images first, before they read any content or fine-print. You’ll want to use imagery, then, to communicate what is worth their attention. Add a photo of your irresistible cheesecake, or put a colorful frame around your lunch specials, but don’t bother adding “random” graphics to fill in space unless they are really promoting something important. If customers are distracted by an image, they may overlook great content.

Be Consistent

If there’s one buzzword for effective menu design, it’s “consistency.” Consistency is important mainly because it lets the rest of your menu shine through. Inconsistency -- in content structure, design, or use of graphics -- is distracting and disorienting to your customers. Some simple rules to follow here are to limit your menu design to 3 compatible colors (for both fonts & accent boxes), keep icons and images the same sizes from section to section, include your logo in a standard size & location on each page, and use a single design collection for your menu suite, rather than a hodgepodge of designs.

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