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4 simple first impressions you can make with your menu

4 simple first impressions you can make with your menu

Welcome to the Menu Series!

We’re kicking off today with a look at different types of menus your customers can find waiting for them on tables or slipped into their hand as they pull in their chair.

The menus that, days or weeks or months (hell, maybe even years) ago, you spent hours drafting, printing, rewriting, reprinting, ripping up and repurposing into a bed for your kid’s pet hamster and starting over with.

We’re looking at old-school hard copy menus as opposed to the verbally-delivered menu with its oh-so casual scripted patter. Done well, this can be dazzlingly effective for building rapport and trust between server and guest.

But it’s nothing to look at.

Here we’re talking about menus with printed words that greet customers full-on square in the face (“HIIII!!!”) or those that quietly introduce themselves with a gentle “no-rush-I’m-here-when-you’re-ready” whisper. 

Table with menus

Because these are the menus that customers must touch, turn, open, respond to and engage with.

That’s what we’re looking at here.

Not communal menus slung up on chalkboards declaring flat whites and frappuccinos (also important – but we can look at them another time).

And definitely not self-service menus on touch screens.

And we’re not talking about The Little Yellow Door – that super social supper club run by former flatmates who recently shifted to Fulham, painted the infamous door Blue and are relaunching next month (see you there).

Why aren’t we talking about that? Well, these quirky cats built their menu on WhatsApp as a list of emojis. Because hey, who needs words when you can have cocktail emojis? (Have to admit, they are kindaaa fun to work out but call me a straight-up Old-Fashioned on this, I’m a believer in words.)

So, no. Not emoji menus.

Today we’re taking a walk through some of the first impressions your menu should make and what it means for your customers.

And because it means something to your customers, it will mean something to you and impact your business. There is a LOT written about this under the subject of menu engineering so we’re not going to get too scientific today – but here’s the thing:

Some menus are better than others at first impressions.

Because simply holding a menu in your hand can should elicit a thrill of anticipation that signals:

  1. You’re officially OUT! Possibly with a friend, a date or (hopefully at the very least) someone you’re not desperately irked to be hanging ‘n dining with.
  2. Soon, upon your instruction and specifically because you’ve been holding that menu, someone will bring you a plate/dish/board/miniature shopping trolley bearing something at worst edible and at best taste-bustingly exquisite.

And these are very exciting things indeed!

Your customer’s first interaction with the menu is super important because the anticipation of pleasurable possibilities derived from being presented with, holding and reading it can be more thrilling than eating the darn food when it lands. Even if the cooking itself is a knock-out. 

So let’s take a look at some first impressions you’ll want to consider with your menu. 


Because the decisions you make will go towards influencing what your customers will order. And this will impact your business.

#1 Size What size should your menu be? A6, A5? Slim or square? There’s no set size or ratio. Bigger isn’t better – you don’t want guests shattering flutes of fizz when they flip it over. And large format menus obstruct views across the table. A definite first-date no-no.

#2 Folders and covers Tucking your menu into one of these will protect the paper inside and is an opportunity to boost your branding. Available in an array of materials and finishes from leather, cork, metal… You name it. Elephant-grained with crocodile cross-stitch? Go for it.

#3 Paper The type, weight and finish of the paper matters as it’s likely that your customer is going to touch it. And in doing so, they will subconsciously assess it. Are you going for embossed, silky elegance or the rustic, recycled look? There’s no right or wrong (though crumpled, dog-eared and stained isn’t often appetising) and it comes down to the food you serve, your branding and your ethos. Nice to see this range of recycled paper for menus by eco-craft. Want a menu that shirks wine, grease and tearing, one that’s wipeable and dries instantly without the shiny bulk of laminate? Consider polyester paper.

#4 Pages and folds To fold or not to fold? Single sheet, double-sided, a one-fold (two panels) or double-fold (three-panels)? A Z-fold? It depends on how much information you’re planning to include and how you want your customers to interact with it. Need multiple pages attached with staples or clips? A perfect bound book? Wire stitching? Lots of options depending on the impact you want your menu to have.


Next week… We’ll be looking Food Fonts so be sure to check back in then!