The Guide to Menu Design

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From wording and white space to infographics and photos, all the details that make print menus pop.

For San Diego seafood institution the Brigantine, the road to a new menu began with an old website.

The Brigantine is one of those restaurants that’s been around for quite a while. Founded in 1969 by Mike and Barb Morton—and now run by their son Mike Jr., who is president and CEO—the Brigantine began as a lone location near the Point Loma fishing fleet in California. In the 46 ensuing years, the restaurant group has grown to six Brigantine locations and six Miguel’s Cocina restaurants in San Diego County. Though growth was fresh, the website built in 2007 had gone stale.

“It’s like a lot of brands out there, whether it’s a restaurant or not, they have a historic website that they’ve been building on top of,” says Scott Mires, partner/creative director of agency MiresBall and leader on the Brigantine’s rebranding project. “When we talked to the Brigantine, we said, ‘It’s not just your website; your brand is not firing on all cylinders. Maybe we should step back and look at that, because if you’re going to have this nicer website, you should be speaking to the audience in a cool way across all mediums.’”

Along with a new website, identity system, and brand aesthetic, MiresBall wrangled with the Brigantine menu. It was out of touch with the restaurant’s true style, Mires says, intimating the wrong information. “The previous menu had multiple type styles and things were just stuck all over. The logo was in the bottom right corner running vertically up the side. It looked like somebody had pieced it together like a collage of typography; it was terrible.

“And yet, when you eat there, they’re really organized, your food comes out quickly, and it’s always hot,” he adds. The menu would not have implied so. “Every single point of your brand should deliver that consistency and overall message.”

A restaurant menu sends guests a message about the establishment as a whole, from its level of sophistication to how much care is put into the sourcing of ingredients. More than a list, a menu is a handheld storyteller, and everything, from the organization of the sections and physical size of the menu down to the white space, colors, and typography, combine to create this autobiography. The narrative a restaurant menu presents will influence, and in some instances determine, how much money consumers are willing to spend there.

“The menu is the No. 1 selling tool behind the server,” says Brian Haffeman, founder and creative director at Copper Blue Creative, which last year redesigned the menu for Coco’s Bakery Restaurant, a Western-themed family eatery with more than 110 locations on the West Coast.

“The server, she is really there to educate and to sell, but there’s a little potential for inconsistency,” Haffeman explains. “The menu is the one area where a restaurant can control the presentation [of information].”

Menus of 2015 are zeroing in on three key motifs: freshness, sophistication, and simplicity. Not one expert or restaurateur interviewed suggested eateries are adding items to their menus like they did in decades past; instead, restaurants are slimming the number of options while upping the quality. Restaurants are simultaneously emphasizing that fresh—which goes hand in hand with seasonality, as some operators choose that description instead—is of utmost importance.

In addition to the print version, the brigantine created a mobile-friendly version of its menu. Sam Wells

Next: Starters



With our clients, we trace everything back to how the restaurant or hospitality company began and what it stood for - the authentic voice of the brand. Being true to the core of who you are as operators is the only sustainable way to succeed and market to changing demographics.Tom KelleyPresidentAccessPoint GroupSan Diego


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