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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for the ‘Menus’ Category

Commercial Printing: Menus Foster Brand Awareness

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

We all still have to eat. Have you noticed that even in tough economic times, people still go out to restaurants. Maybe they don’t go to high-end restaurants, but I still see long lines at Chipotle and similar venues.

So at one time or another—usually regularly—we all use menus.

Have you ever thought about the design and production choices that go into creating a menu? Or the marketing value of a menu? Everything from the choice of custom printing paper to the font choice to the color scheme to the consistency between the interior design of the restaurant and the graphic design of the menu all combine to establish a tone and reflect a brand. And the brand is a contract of sorts. You choose something on the menu. You expect a certain level of quality and service, whether you’re eating at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse or McDonald’s. And you’re justifiably upset if you don’t get them.

Approaching Graphic Design and Paper Choices for Menus

Chinese Restaurant

Let’s look at some of the choices open to designers and the implications for restaurant marketing. For instance, I just went to a Chinese restaurant in Ocean City. The menu was a listing of the culinary offerings printed in process color on unfolded, 50# white offset paper. Based on the quality, it looked like the menu had been printed on an office inkjet printer.

I didn’t expect much based on this presentation. I thought about this as I folded my menu (two parallel folds, as obviously intended by the menu content). Had I not eaten this food before (at my fiancee’s daughter’s house) and loved it, I would not have expected much in the way of Chinese food.

Granted, this implies prejudice. However, attention to detail in branding (wall colors, consistency between the menu design and the overall restaurant design) as well as custom printing quality affect us all on both a subconscious and conscious level. I was happy to be wrong about the food. I had an outstanding dinner, and I want to go back soon.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle’s menu is printed solely in black ink on a thick, brown, flecked cover stock. It is uncoated and looks a bit like a paper bag. I think it’s a masterful example of understatement. The designer just listed the offerings in a simple layout. There’s an organic, no-nonsense feel to the menu, and it goes perfectly with the interior design of the restaurant: everything from the industrial look of the exposed pipes in the ceiling, to the metal relief sculptures on the walls, to the intense spotlights. Even the coordinated black and white, hand-lettered print t-shirt designs (the Chipotle uniforms) suggest a focused, stripped down approach to food preparation.

The food is outstanding, and the line always stretches the entire length of the building. Obviously something is working.

High-End Steak Restaurants

I’ve been to a few high-end steak restaurants in my time. Interestingly enough, the menus were more like leather clad print books, with removable inserts printed on thick, textured stock listing the appetizers, main courses, and desserts. The level of opulence suggested by these leather binders presented an exclusivity characteristic of such restaurants.

Even the prices were often noted without decimals (i.e., $14 instead of $14.00). There’s something offhand about such casual notations of prices. From a marketing point of view, perhaps they were saying, “We know you can afford to eat here. Not everyone can. So choose what you like.”

Children’s Restaurants

If you’re taking the whole family out, and your children are young, perhaps you appreciate restaurants with menus that have been laminated. After little fingers have left food smudges on the coated menus, the restaurant employees can always wipe them clean and reuse the menus in pristine condition.

(The same goes for laminated placemats than can be wiped clean and reused. However, as noted in a prior blog entry, this is a good opportunity to specify synthetic paper, such as Yupo: tree-free, recyclable paper that does not come apart even under water.)

Coordinating Print Menus with Other Media

In addition to Chipotle’s coordination of a small printed menu on paper with a larger menu displayed on the wall above the trays of food, I have seen other restaurants that have used a thoughtful approach to design in order to bring a unified look to their menus and large format printing (such as their signage). But let’s take this one step further. Many restaurants are carrying the graphic theme into their websites. Or they’re providing smart-phone apps, or they’re even setting up the option of ordering online or via fax machine and then driving to the restaurant to pick up the food.

“Cross-media” is the key phrase in this case, with a conscious crafting of a consistent brand message that carries over from signage to print ads to menus to interior design, and even to the restaurant’s online presence (Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp).

The key is that a menu is a contract between the restaurant and the patron. “This is what you can expect if you pay the listed price.” Anything less is a problem. And as with most services, it’s wise to under-promise and over-deliver. All of this should be reflected in the custom printing, from the ads to the table tents to the large format printing to the menu.


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