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1 - Yikes! I need a menu board – what do I do next?  

By Cheryl K on July 9, 2015


Congratulations! You’ve decided to take a big step and realize your dream of owning and operating your own quick serve restaurant! Or maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your current restaurant operation and bring your menu board system up to a new service level! You may already be a bit overwhelmed with decisions to make: Do I paint or wallpaper the walls? Booths or tables… or both? Drive-thru lane or just a walk-up counter? So much to think about!

My goal is to give you a four-step strategy to create a fabulous first impression of your restaurant – your menu board! Here’s a blueprint to assist you in making your menu board a great tool toward increased profit for your restaurant. Hopefully you’ll find lots of interesting bits of information and useful questions to help formulate your plan of action in making your new menu board a creative and attractive element of your restaurant.



The first step is not quick or easy - you will spend a good deal of time completing the task of going through your current menu, or developing your new menu. You know your menu the best! What do you want your brand to say? What food items do you want to feature?  What is your most profitable menu item?  What do current customers ask for the most often? Once you answer these questions, you have an idea of your “menu mix”. Because a menu board is more limited in space than a paper handout menu, you might also use this exercise to clean up your current menu mix to remove food items with low profit margins or that aren’t ordered very often. Remember you can always make a “custom” or special item should a guest request it. Something else to keep in mind is the new federal mandate to show calorie counts if your restaurant fits the parameters – this will make a difference in space allowed on your new menu board!

Update Note 8/11/15: Click here to read an article in NACS Online about "Less is More" in your menu mix!

As you are reviewing your menu mix, you should be thinking about food pictures: will stock photography available from a website be okay, or do you need custom food pictures to best illustrate your food items? Pictures sell your food, especially for people who haven’t been in your restaurant before or who don’t have a lot of time to make a menu decision. Studies have shown food pictures can increase sales of the item by 15% and more!

Pictures also visually break up a menu board and make it more interesting to read. Visit a website like or to see a sample of general food pictures which may easily fit your needs.

Next lay out how you would like your menu board to look.  Using a spreadsheet program like Excel is a great help to visualize each panel. (Example A) Title a column with a working header, and then list your items below it. Simple listings are best – customers usually don’t take time to read a lot of detail on a hanging menu board as compared to in-hand printed menus. And if there’s a line behind your customer waiting to order, the customer perceives pressure to make a quick decision and will quickly scan the menu board for a familiar item or a favorite meal.  

Example A

If you have a walk-up counter with multiple stations, remember that most customers do not read your menu board from left to right, but rather look to the middle first – place your main items or your combo meals in this area, with your add-ons (beverages, a la carte items) to the left or right of the middle.  (See Example B)  
                                    Example B
  If you have a left or right order station with a pick-up area to the other side, your primary food items should be immediately visible with the lesser items to the side, away from the main board. (See Example C)
Example C                                  

If this task seems overwhelming, look to a professional to help you! Most menu board companies have terrific art departments who specialize in designing layouts for the foodservice industry and can guide you through the process. A restaurant equipment dealer might also be a great resource to help you plan your menu board design.

Once you’ve decided on your menu mix, you are ready for the next step: Style!


About Cheryl K

Cheryl K has been part of the point of sale and menu board industry in many capacities for the past 25 years. Since 2007 she has worked with The Howard Company's ecommerce websites developing webstores and content, and administering the CMS platform. Along with this responsibility she has worked in Customer Service, Graphic Design, and most recently helped in the redesign of the Howard's corporate webpages. She enjoys the challenges of serving Howard Company business partners and looks for opportunities to make purchasing solutions less complicated to the everyday consumer.

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