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Coffee Shop Menu Design: Do's and Don'ts

Menu Design Magic

Coffee shop menus are terrible.


Often, they're either too much or not enough.


But they're never easy for the customer.


I've been reviewing some menus recently and it got me thinking about menu psychology - from the perspective of both the SMB owner and the customer.


Before I dive in, I want to say that your coffee shop menu design is important.


It's the gateway your customers use to order products in exchange for their own hard-earned dollars.


For a minute, think about Wal-Mart. Yes, Wal-Mart.


Sam Walton (Wal-Mart's founder) knew how important display was to merchandising. He would literally stop at EVERY retailer he drove by to see how they did things, what he could implement at Wal-Mart, and what the retailer was doing that he'd never thought of.


This passion for merchandise display helped drive sales and was instrumental to making Wal-Mart what it is today.


Well, in coffee, we can't display our products on the shelves for customers to peruse at their leisure and grab as they please – we use menus. These menus are a proxy for merchandise display.


*btw, I picked up this info from Made in America, Sam Walton's memoir. A great read for any business owner.

Coffee Shop Menu Design from a Scarcity Mindset

I've seen many small business owners have a scarcity mindset:

  • thinking the "ideal" customer is anyone with money

  • thinking they need to offer everything under the sun "just in case"

  • thinking "everything is important"

Menus created with a scarcity mindset do too much lifting, often end up overcrowded, complex, difficult to read, and overwhelming for the customer.

Recently, I reviewed a menu design where EVERY ITEM AND DESCRIPTION WAS BOLD. There's a time and place for bold text – it's supposed to make things stand out. But when it's everywhere, nothing stands out.

It made the menu seem loud and intimidating.

Coffee Shop Menu Design from an Elitist Mindset

The other mindset is an elitist mindset:

  • thinking the best menu is the smallest menu

  • thinking the "coffee will shine" when the items are extremely minimal

  • thinking "this is how I want to serve coffee, so the customers can deal with it"


It's a tricky balance, sure. But no one is impressed by how few menu items you have.


Back to the Wal-Mart illustration, the Everyday Low Prices retailer makes it EASY to find what you're looking for when you go in. BIG overhead signs, walkable aisles, most popular items at eye-level, etc.


The fastest time-to-value wins.


For the coffee snob (I include myself as a card-carrying member of the Coffee Snob Society 😂), the minimal menu is fine, because they want good coffee in a traditional Italian style beverage.


But for the sugar-craving middle-aged office worker, or the non-coffee-but-still-caffeinated Gen Z student, this minimal menu is lacking.

Menu design balance

Having a small menu is great for making ordering easy (see the Paradox of Choice) and making training baristas simpler, but having an extensive menu is attractive for pleasing everyone.


I think the key lies in building the menu is layers:

  1. Start with the foundational drinks: this might be the typical Italian beverages like espresso, cappuccino, latte, etc.

  2. Add a few items for non-coffee drinkers: include some tea, matcha, hot chocolate, etc.

  3. Add some "treats": like frozen frappe options, butter coffee, etc.

  4. Add your own ON-BRAND specialties: these drinks are the ones people talk about outside your cafe, the ones your shop is known for, the ones with cute, memorable names that your customers can't get anywhere else.




Now, make sure it's easy to read, has a clear flow according to the Golden Ratio, and get a lot of feedback!


Btw, if you'd like a Menu Review by an expert, schedule a session with me via the Coaching page:D


Book an Inquiry Call, send over your menu, I'll review it and provide feedback for a flat $100.

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