Should Restaurants Add a Picture on the Menu?

When you create a menu, there are many things to consider. You will obviously list the food and beverages you will serve as well.  Will you have detailed descriptions, how will you display prices—these are two things to think about. What about pictures? 

Should a restaurant add a picture on the menu? While it’s up to the restaurant to add a photo for specific menu items, doing so could help increase sales. Photos are visual representations of what you’re offering, and they are especially helpful if you provide foreign or uniquely prepared dishes. 

However, there are some guidelines to follow when using pictures on the menu.  You shouldn’t just take photos of all your menu items and put them on the menu. Using photos can be a marketing strategy in itself, so you need to give it a whole lot of thought for it to be successful.

Why Fuss Over Your Menu 

Your restaurant’s menu communicates who you are and what you have to offer. As such, it is your primary means of representation. For this reason, your menu should create enough of an impression for you so that it stays with your customers for a long time. 

Additionally, your menu must express your restaurant’s brand in a way that makes customers excited to be eating there. And they would want to come back and recommend it to friends and family.

If your menu is impressive enough, diners are going to have several items they want to try. But because they couldn’t possibly eat everything in one sitting, they will already make a mental note of what to order next time. 

How Menu Photos Help with Sales

Gregg Rapp, a menu engineer, claims that adding high-quality pictures beside food items can increase restaurant sales by as much as 30 percent. Researchers at Iowa State University tested a digital display of a salad on young YMCA campers. They found that the kids who saw the photo were up to 70 percent more likely to order a salad for lunch. Read article here.

Brian Mennecke, an associate professor of information systems, said that the more vivid the image and the more accurate and realistic it is, the more it is going to stimulate a person’s response to it. 

However, restaurant consultant Aaron Allen, warned that crowding too many photos affects the perception of the food quality.  If too many are on a menu, people perceive that the food is lower quality. Most high-end restaurants avoid photos to maintain a perceived level of fanciness.

If you want to read a more detailed explanation of how one restaurant simplified its menu and added pictures, you might want to check out this article by Joseph Salza. His bottom line was that people today want information instantly, and pictures are one way to give your customers what they want.

Considerations for Adding Photos to the Menu

Photos on the menu will be great for business, but there are instances when using them might not be a good idea or might deserve more thought. 

For one, food photos project a particular image because of the kind of restaurants that typically use them on their menus, like fast-food, diners, tourist restaurants, and casual restaurants. Higher-end restaurants and fine dining establishments opt for an elegant menu without pictures.

Another consideration would be your budget because food photography is quite expensive. If you cannot afford to get a professional photographer who can do your food justice and provide clear and lifelike images for your menu, you might as well skip it. Adding bad photos of your food would only make your food look unappetizing.

Of course, good photographs would also be useless if you cannot get a high-quality color printer to print your menus.

Guidelines in Taking Food Photos

Here are some tips on how to go about taking photos of your menu offerings:

1. Book a professional photographer to take pictures of your menu items. And if you can afford it, hire a food stylist. A professional photographer would have the best camera and the best lighting equipment to take the best photo of your food. And a food stylist would know how to present your food so that it looks fresh, mouth-watering, and irresistible. 

2. Plan out the food or dishes you want photographed. If you have a lot of menu items, you wouldn’t be able to add photos for all of them without your menu looking like a picture book or a cookbook. Instead, prioritize your specialty dishes and those items that require unique preparation. Don’t waste menu space on fries or mushroom soup when you could showcase your potential bestseller. 

3. Allot enough time to prepare your food. Prepare your ingredients and start cooking before the photographer arrives. But also make sure that a particular dish would still look freshly cooked by the time the photographer begins. You wouldn’t want a photo of your burger with sagging and yellowing lettuce and limp fries on the sides.

4. Highlight your food’s texture and details so that the photo would involve your other senses. The picture should look like you could almost see the juices oozing out of the meat as you cut it with your knife, hear the crunch of your salad as you chew it, or feel the cheese melting in your mouth.

One way to do this is to show the ingredients or what’s inside an item. Don’t just take a photo of a burger and show only the buns and whatever sticks out of them. Instead, cut it in half so you could show people what’s inside, especially the juicy patty, the cheese, and everything else layered neatly. 

5. Keep things realistic and accurate. Make sure the photos are an accurate representation of your food, especially when it comes to serving size, colors, and ingredients. The food in the picture should look like how you would serve it to your customers. They would be disappointed to see a food item that doesn’t look any bit as tasty and mouth-watering as it does in the picture. And that’s not a feeling you would want diners to associate with your food.

6. Add a garnish or a splash of color. Imagine taking a photo of your mashed potatoes and how bland and boring it will be. Make it more interesting by sprinkling something green on top. Better yet, take a photo of it alongside a more colorful dish.

7. Add a personal flair. Make your dishes look unique by adding in your own flair. Don’t make your food look generic as if diners can just get it from any other restaurant. You can do this by capturing the essence and ambiance of your restaurant, using signature plates and silverware, and giving the dish your signature styling.

Other Ways to Improve Your Menu 

Pictures are not the only way to improve a menu.  Here are a few other tips:

  • Make your menu easy to read and understand. Design your menu in such a way that the layout is simple and easy on the eyes, and its text is easy to read. 

If you are serving foreign cuisine and have listed the items using the language of that cuisine, you should also include a short description of what it is. Remember, people there are hungry, and the easier they understand your menu, the sooner they can enjoy your food.

  • Be as creative as you can get. Give your menu a twist by inserting some creativity into it. For example, you may want to name each of your menu items after something that fits with the theme of your restaurant.


Bottom Line

If you are aiming for casual dining, then pictures can increase sales.  However, be careful not to overdo it. And if you plan to go the fine dining route, avoid using them. 

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