Should you put pictures of food on your menu

Should you put pictures of the food on your menu. Yay or nay?

Updated on: December 27, 2020

A picture is worth a thousand words.

We’ve all heard that oft repeated phrase. But, if that’s true, why are they more prevalent in fast food restaurants than fine dining establishments? Are they appropriate for every restaurant? For every menu item? Do they really make a difference?

According to a 2017 study done in the International Journal of Hospitality Management pictures make a difference. But not with every user, and not with every menu item. Researchers found that when the establishment had a common or descriptive food name paired with a picture of the food, diners were more likely to purchase that item, than the item without a picture. But, if you had menu items with unfamiliar or ambiguous names, only people who were highly verbal. Visualizers weren’t affected by the picture at all. So, if your menu had an item called a “Veggie Burger” and showed a picture of a burger with lettuce and tomato, it will probably encourage the customer to purchase the food. However, if you called that burger “The Garden of Delights” or offered food with unfamiliar or foreign names, pictures would only affect about half of your diners.

That means data exists that shows how effective pictures on the menu can be. What are some of the advantages of using pictures on your menu?


Enticing Customers

You have a delicious hot cocoa drink that you start serving as soon as the leaves begin to turn. Everyone that knows about it, loves it. So how do you get the word out? Pictures. You can put the hot cocoa menu in the window of your restaurant with a great big picture of your hot cocoa. Those who pass can see the drink, and even if they hadn’t planned on stopping, many will respond to the picture.

The same holds true with those who are already in your restaurant. Why do so many owners place dessert menu cards with pictures on the table? Because it works. While diners are chowing down on their steamed broccoli and baked chicken breast, they are looking at that toothsome chocolate cake, making them more likely to save room, or at least take home, a piece of the dessert.

Specialty Sales

Let’s say that one of the specialties of your restaurant is your delicious fresh trout. But, it’s fresh. That means you have to serve a lot of it in order to make it pay. And, let’s face it, fresh fish doesn’t last long. So you need people to not only be aware of your dish without saying “Hey, come eat my fish before it goes bad.”

Pictures can help you. Your seafood lovers will be more likely to order your fresh trout if you place a picture of it next to a clear description under your seafood menu.

The same holds true for other items that can quickly go stale or don’t age well such as baked goods and fresh greens.


But that doesn’t mean that using pictures isn’t without problems. Let’s look at some of the Issues that haunt pictured menus.

Poor design

The most important part of your menu is that the customer can read it. Cute designs that put words or pictures in odd places can interrupt the flow of your items and make it difficult for diners to read what you are offering. Making the picture of your food so large that it crowds the words off the page can make it hard for clients to actually read your names and prices. Placing the image under the words can, depending on the colors in the picture, obscure the actual information on the menu. Putting the description of more than one food next to the pictures can confuse your customers and cause tension, rather than easing them into a dining experience. They may be wondering which food goes with a picture they think they would like but might be embarrassed to ask.

You can solve this problem by remembering the hallmark of all menu design: clarity. Just like you don’t want to use a font that, while it might be beautiful, makes your menu difficult to read. Choose only those pictures that will benefit your business the most.

Poor Photographs

We’ve all seen them. Those faded pictures of food that were ugly even when they were brand new. Surely, the chef didn’t intend for his “garden salad” to have grey bacon bits sitting on a bed of pale lettuce leaves and green-tinged strings of cheese. But that’s what happens to printing over time, especially when the lighting of the original photograph wasn’t that great to begin with. Taking a picture of your signature plate with your phone probably won’t cut it, no matter how good you think the shot is.

One of the reasons so many chain restaurants use pictures is because they can. When you have a thousand restaurants around the country, it becomes cost effective to use a food stylist and a professional photographer to get the most out of every dish you serve. While it can be expensive, hire someone who really knows about photographing food before you commit to using photographs on your menus.


Printing pictures just plain costs more than printing in black and white. This means if your menu changes with any regularity, you will have added expense with each printing.

There are a few ways to get around this, however. If you use menu folders that allow you to slip paper menus in place, you can add pictures to the paper before you put them in their place. All you have to do is make sure that you leave space when designing the print and use a tacky glue that allows you to remove and reuse the picture.

Pictures can be used effectively for restaurants of all types of cuisine. The important facts to keep in mind is that the pictures must be high-quality, must be clear, and must showcase your best work.


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