Maybe you understand how to price your Italian food menu, but do you know how to create one in the first place?
Building your menu may seem overwhelming, especially when you consider how many variations of Italian dishes are out there. How do you decide which ones to include?
Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a step-by-step process to design your Italian food menu.
Step 1: Decide who will create your Italian food menu – a designer, agency, or yourself.
Step 2: Design your Italian food menu based on the elements of good menu design.
Step 3: Become a connoisseur of traditional Italian cuisine by learning about the top Italian dishes.
Step 4: Find Italian food menu design inspiration with examples of beautifully designed menus.
Let’s get to it.
Step 1: Decide Who Will Create Your Italian Food Menu
You can use a design agency, hire a graphic designer, or create your own menu with menu design software. Your budget, level of technical skills, and unique needs will drive this decision.
Hiring an agency
You may choose to hire an agency to handle the entire process (design and printing), especially if you have a large restaurant chain and large budget. But if your budget is on the smaller size, you’ll want to consider one of the other two options.
Hiring a graphic designer
Your designer will work with you to ensure the design is aligned with your brand. When hiring someone, ensure they specialize in restaurant menu design and understand the psychology behind it. Also, bonus points if your designer appreciates Italian food culture.
The one downside of working with a designer is that you’re not completely in control of how and when the work gets done. And, you’ll likely have to re-hire them when making any changes to your menu, which for some restaurants happens quite regularly.
How to hire the right freelance designer
Ask your restaurant consultant, post a job posting, or reach out to another restaurant chain whose menu you like and ask who designed it. You can also ask your staff for references. If all else fails, consider using a design association:
- The Professional Association for Design in the US
- The Association of Registered Graphic Designers in Canada
Menu design software
With pre-made Italian food menu templates, creating your menu using design software can be a cinch. The software gives you full control over your designs – you won’t have to reach out to an agency or designer when you need to make changes. But, there are downsides.
- There are limited number of templates, so your italian food menu may look very similar to another restaurant’s.
- Even a templated design is only as good as the person using the software. You still have to be aware of some menu design principles and take steps to ensure you menu is error-free.
Menu design software options:
Step 2: Design Your Italian Food Menu
Now that you’ve decided who will create your Italian food menu, it’s time to look how. Start with the basic elements of any good design. These are format, length, layout, branding, photos, color, fonts, background, and pricing.
The style of your restaurant and the number of menu items will dictate your format. There are four formats you can choose from.
- Single page: Place your menu on one page, horizontally or vertically.
This is ideal for restaurants that change their menu often and rely on fresh, seasonal produce.
Pros: Smaller menus help diners choose meals faster.
Cons: Diners who appreciate a wide variety of choice may not enjoy the experience.
- Two-panel, single-fold: The most common menu type.
This menu opens like a book and lets diners read across two pages.
Pros: These menus are easy to read and help you strategically place dishes with high profit margins.
Cons: These menus still aren’t suitable for restaurants with a broad range of dishes.
- Three panel, two-fold menus: Ideal for pubs and family-style restaurants.
Pros: Allows for a wide variety of dishes.
Cons: Too many options may make choosing a dish difficult and lead to menu clutter.
- Panel booklet: For restaurants that provide an extensive variety of dishes.
Pros: Variety is appealing for some.
Cons: This menu can make it harder to engineer for profit.
When designing your Italian food menu, it’s a good idea to start small and scale up. Create a limited menu, get feedback from customers, and then make changes, adding more categories or expanding categories as needed.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have an extensive menu. If your concept is an Italian family-style restaurant with a large variety of dishes, then you may choose to showcase that.
Pro tip: Create separate menus for wine and dessert if your menu exceeds the 12″ x 18″ page.
Number of items
According to menu engineers, seven is the magic number of menu items per category. When diners have too many options, not only will they struggle to choose but will likely revert to what they know. And if what they know is a dish with a low profit margin, you will lose money.
Other benefits of fewer items include:
- Lower food costs
- Reduced printing costs
- Less time spent designing the menu
You can layout your menu in a few different ways:
- Order: Arrange your menu based on how diners order: appetizers, mains, desserts.
- Category: Organize dishes based on categories like pizza, pasta, and salads.
- Columns and rows: Break your menu into columns and rows, and leave white space for easy reading.
- Focal point: According to menu engineers, our eyes read a menu starting in the middle, then move to top right and then top left. This is known as the Golden Triangle, the place where your high-margin items should live.
For these and other tips on how to engineer your menu for maximum profit, read Menu Engineering:
The names and descriptions of your dishes should reinforce your brand. For example, if your brand is synonymous with freshness, use words that convey that idea in your menu (e.g. fresh, seasonal, locally produced, etc.).
Naming your Italian dishes
What you name your dishes will shape the overall dining experience. Experiment with these naming conventions (Italian examples included):
- Primary ingredient: pasta, chicken or beef
- Sensory descriptors: fresh salad, crispy bacon, tender steak
- Region: Northern Italian food, Bologna, Italian cuisine, Sicilian cuisine, Sardinian cuisine
- Nostalgia: traditional, classic, authentic, homemade
- How it’s cooked: slow-cooked, cured meat, Italian style, smoked, braised, poached
- Combination: traditional Italian cuisine, authentic Italian cuisine, classic Italian cuisine, traditional Sardinian cuisine
Keep your descriptions as short as possible. Most people want to know what’s in the dish – the main ingredients and accompanying ingredients – and how it’s cooked.
Also, boost profits by focusing on the description of your highest margin dishes. These should be immediately appealing. But be careful of over-selling and under-delivering. Nothing is more disappointing than reading a mouthwatering description only to get a sub-par dish.
For more tips on how to create compelling descriptions, check out Menu Design: Size, Layout, and Design.
Photos on menus are a highly debated topic. They can cause a menu to look cluttered, detracting from the dining experience. As a result, they’re often associated with lower-end restaurants. But, when used sparingly, photos are a powerful tool for menus because:
- Quality photos capture a diner’s attention.
- They can increase profits by 30% – as long as you use one photo per page.
Colors trigger our brains in different ways and can be used on menus to drives sales:
- Orange stimulates the appetite
- Yellow captures attention
- Red encourages action
- Green conveys freshness – a good option for your menu because Italian food is known for freshness
Pro Tip: Align color with your brand and target market. If you’re unsure, do market research.
Fonts guide readers to different dishes and tell diners about the style of your restaurant. Here are key points to consider:
- Readability. Fonts need to be easy on the eye and the right size. Consider using at least 20 to 30 point font.
- Brand. Align the font with your brand. For example, if you’re a formal restaurant, consider using a more formal cursive font.
- Print vs. digital. Use Serif fonts for print and Sans-serif for digital.
- Consistency is key. Limit the number of fonts to a maximum of three and use them consistently. You don’t want to alternate between different fonts in one section – it looks unprofessional.
- Bold items. Draw the diner’s attention to high-margin items with bolded titles.
Create a simple background that doesn’t detract from the look of the menu, create clutter, or impair readability. If you’re unsure, opt for using white space.
There’s a growing trend to exclude dollar signs on menus – especially since a 2009 study from Cornell University showed that sales were higher for menus without the dollar sign than those with them. Regardless, here are four pricing formats to choose from:
They all convey the same price to customers, but do so with a different look and feel. Choose the format that corresponds to your restaurant concept.
Menu nutritional information
The US and some parts of Canada have introduced calorie labeling laws to curb obesity and promote transparency in the restaurant industry. If you belong to a restaurant chain of 20+ restaurants, you’ll have to add calories counts to your menus. If you don’t, you can ignore these laws – for now.
Step 3: Become a Connoisseur of Italian Cuisine
Italian food is known for its simplicity, with many dishes only having between two and four ingredients. Indeed, it’s all about the quality of the ingredients and less about elaborate preparation.
While lasagna, pasta, pizza, risotto, and polenta are typical dishes found on Italian food menus, the cuisine is, in fact, incredibly diverse.
For example, there are about 350 different types of pasta, and pizza can be made using two different styles: Neapolitan and Roman. Roman pizza is characterized by a thin to medium crust, and the inclusion of oil makes it different from Neapolitan pizza. The oil makes the crust heavier, more flavorful and crispier.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, since Italian food differs widely by region. For instance, in Southern Italy, tomatoes, oranges, ricotta cheese, anchovies, sardines, and capers are essential elements in the local cuisine, while in the North, potatoes, rice, different cheeses, pork, and corn feature prominently – not to mention the stuffed pasta.
This may all seem incredibly overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. To help prepare your menu, here are top Italian dishes across 20 different regions:
1. Abruzzo and Molise
Pasta, meat and vegetable dishes are a staple in Abruzzo and Molise. In Abruzzo, arrosticini is the most famous dish. This dish consists of small pieces of castrated mutton or lamb on a wooden skewer, cooked on the coals.
In Molise, cavatelli is common. Cavatelli is a handmade macaroni-type pasta, commonly served with meat sauce, broccoli, or mushrooms.
The cuisine here is deeply rooted in local tradition, with pork as an essential ingredient. A common traditional Italian dish is làgane, pasta prepared with chickpeas and peeled tomatoes.
Macaroni with goat, beef, or pork and salted ricotta is a classic Italian dish in this area.
Spaghetti and Neapolitan style pizza is eaten frequently in this region. An authentic and favorite dish in Campania is spaghetti alla puttanesca, which consists of tomatoes, garlic, olives, capers, and anchovies.
Well-known for pasta filled with egg and ricotta cheese, Emilia-Romagna has a wide variety of classic Italian pasta dishes you’ve likely heard of. These include tortellini, lasagne, and tagliatelle – synonymous with the cities of Bologna and Modena.
6. Friuli Venezia Giulia
Popular dishes include Montasio cheese, Frico cheese, game, Friuli cured ham, gnocchi, and polenta.
Pasta dishes are featured prominently in Lazio, especially those that use guanciale (unsmoked bacon prepared with pig cheeks) and dishes you likely know – such as carbonara. Traditional carbonara is made with egg, hard cheese, guanciale, and pepper.
On the coast of Marche, seafood is a core ingredient in many dishes. But, as you move inland, you’ll more ham and pork sausages. Brodetto all’Anconetana (or soup of Ancona) is spicy, made with the local catch of the day, and immensely popular.
Herbs, vegetables, and seafood are often used in Liguria. Farinata (flatbread served with chickpea flour) is a local favorite and often served as a side.
Risotto is a key dish in this area, with risotto alla Milanese as the most famous. Made with the usual rice and stock as a base, this risotto uses beef marrow and is flavored with saffron.
The main focus in this region is lamb, which is used to make allulur (tripe dumplings).
Out of all coastal areas, Piedmont has the most diverse Italian cuisine. Two familiar dishes in this area include:
- Agnolotti, a folded over pasta containing beef and vegetable stuffing
- Panissa, a type of risotto with maratelli rice, beans, onions, wine, lard, salami, salt, and pepper
13. Puglia (Apulia)
Oysters, mussels, and fish are often used in Puglia’s regional cuisine, and authentic pasta dishes made from durum wheat are customary. The regional dessert, zeppola, is also a favorite. These are doughnuts filled with custard, jelly, and pastry cream, then topped with powdered sugar.
Small balls of pasta (fregola) are the main component in Sardinian Cuisine. It’s also the main ingredient in the dish, pilau. Pilau is made in a similar way to risotto where you cook the grains in fresh stock. Various versions of Pilau exist including goat or shellfish in a tomato sauce.
Sicilian cuisine usually uses fresh vegetables (e.g. eggplant and tomatoes) and fish (tuna, sea bass, swordfish). There are many classic specialties including arancini (deep-fried rice croquettes) and pasta con le sarde. The latter dish is prepared with hollow pasta tubes and served al dente with sardines, raisins, pine nuts, wild fennel, and saffron.
16. Trentino-Alto Adige
This is Italy’s northernmost region and has strong Austrian influences. While you can find many types of dishes such as goulash, apple strudel, and rosti di patate, the area is most famous for its speck juniper-flavored ham.
Tuscan cuisine is simple, with bread, cheese, mushrooms, and fruit all featured prominently. Classic Tuscan dishes include:
- Ribollita: reboiled bread and vegetable soup
- Gnudi: a type of gnocchi, prepared with ricotta cheese (instead of potato) and flour
Black truffle and game such as wild boar are two common ingredients. Tagliatelle with truffles is a a favorite and simple to make: toss handmade pasta with a small amount of butter, grate Parmigiano, and add truffle.
19. Valle d’Aosta
Soups and cheese fondues are the norm in this region. Polenta, rye bread, smoked bacon, cured meat, and game are all staples. The famous hearty stews and roasted and braised dishes use lots of cream and butter.
Venetian cuisine is well-known for risotto – though the ingredients will differ within the region itself. Expect fish and seafood in your risotto in coastal areas, and pumpkins and asparagus as you move away from the Adriatic sea.
Step 4: Find Design Inspiration from Other Italian Food Menus
Because design inspiration can come from any menu – not just an Italian one – we’ve thrown in a mix for these 10 examples of excellent menu design.
1. Coppa – Boston
Coppa provides a clean menu that’s broken up into distinct categories. The use of a high-quality image in the header gives it a distinctly Italian feel.
2. Ava Gene’s – Portland
Ava Gene’s menu is also clean, but instead of a white background, they use a light brown one. The menu works because it triggers various words in your mind – such as “natural” and “rustic” – that you’d typically associate with Italian restaurants and food.
3. Smith – Toronto, Canada
This menu looks like a newspaper and keeps things straightforward with simple text and black and white images of seasonal produce.
4. Ninebark – Napa Valley, California
Here Ninebark decided to feature their herbs front and center because it’s what they’re all about. If you also have a star of your menu, consider following the same approach.
5. Cafe Vera – Zaragoza, Spain
You have more options than just paper for your menu. Cafe Vera is proof of this with their wood plank menu that screams “quality.”
6. Cotogna – San Francisco, California
Here is a clean and straightforward menu that portrays the rustic Italian style of Cotogna.
7. Fade Street Gastro Bar – Dublin, Ireland
Just because you have a simple menu, doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with the cover design to capture diner’s attention.
8. Hero – Paris, France
While the layout is more complicated than the others, simple design helps Hero get away with it. The use of red also stimulates the appetite.
9. Evo Vegetarian – Portland, Maine
This is a simple and classic design – no need to say more.
10. Al Forno, Rhode Island
Al Forno’s menu aligns with their concept of providing a near-Italian dining experience. The menu is simple, clean, and elegant.
For more menu design inspiration, dive into 51 Examples of Restaurant Menu Design Done Right.
Creating your Italian food menu doesn’t have to be difficult. Just follow the four simple steps we outlined in this post and you can rest peacefully knowing that you’re designing your menu the right way.