- Understand why a new menu is being made. Is this a first menu for a new establishment, or a revision of an existing menu? Are they expecting major changes, perhaps new owners taking over an existing restaurant, or minor adjustments to reflect changes in pricing, focus or season?
- Determine the restaurant's style. It could be anything from family, semi formal, formal dining, to take out. Each type of restaurant needs a different type of menu design. The casual establishment needs a short and fast definition for each menu item. Descriptions and adjectives should be kept to a minimum. A formal restaurant requires more extensive information about the preparation, the ingredients and any background on the pedigree of the dish.
- Become familiar with the demographics. Are there primarily families with young children living in the area, or elderly patrons? Is the area mainly professionals, tourists or locals? The customer base will determine the layout, sections, content, and even the font size.
- Study the existing establishment. Spend some time getting to know their most popular dishes, their least popular choices, and the chef's favorites. What do they see as their core 5-10 dishes? You will be designing the menu around these identifying items. Find out what menu items are there to stay and which are destined to be cut and the reasons for both. Ask questions about proposed new items: Are they replacements? Do they require a new section on the menu, such as heart healthy or vegetarian foods?
- Break down the sections of the menu. You can classify foods by primary ingredients (such as seafood or pasta), region (Italy, France, etc.) or by style (barbeque, stir fry, soups, stews). Or perhaps it will be some combination of those. Get to agreement among the restaurant managers and chef before you move on or you will end up doing dozens of revisions. Get their initials on the agreement.
- Investigate the pricing. Look for variation in pricing for add-ons or special preparations. Find out if substitutions are allowed. The prices may be already established, or you may need to do comparison dining to establish the right cost. If it is available, get the actual cost data for each ingredient.
- Add illustrations. What photos does the owner wish to include in the menu? Determine whether actual photos of the restaurant's specials are available, or if stock photos are acceptable. In general, clip art type illustrations are a poor choice for a professional menu design. Custom graphic design, however, is a popular alternative to photos in higher end restaurant menus.
- Create preliminary mock-ups of the menu layout. Use all the information gathered thus far. You will probably want to limit initial designs to just category or section titles and relevant graphics. Use greeking for the menu items until you have it narrowed down to two or three layouts.
- Select the final layout. Prepare a final mock-up and have the restaurant owner, manager and chef sign off on the entire design and content before sending the files to the printer.