How to Optimize Your Restaurant's Online Delivery Menu Design

We'll share some ways that restaurants can increase delivery sales through thoughtful menu design and a handful of menu psychology techniques.

11 min read

A delivery menu is a restaurant's primary tool to interact with guests and drive off-premise orders — and the menu design can make or break a sale. Without a friendly host or beautiful ambiance to attract dine-in guests, how can restaurants optimize their delivery menu design to stand out from competitors and draw in more delivery customers? 

In this blog post, we'll share how a thoughtful menu design and tried-and-true menu psychology techniques can help restaurants increase delivery sales.

Online delivery menu creator tips

1. Limit your delivery menu items 

While your delivery menu should represent the dine-in experience, that doesn't mean you should include every single item. In fact, simplifying your delivery menu will help prevent "decision fatigue," or the overwhelming feeling people get when presented with too many choices. 

Streamline your delivery menu to focus on higher-margin items, best-sellers, and dishes that travel and reheat well. Choose dishes that capture the essence of your restaurant but can still be enjoyed in a home setting. If an item is unpopular or unprofitable (or especially both) remove it from your delivery menu. You should also consider the prep time — can you make the dish in advance? If not, does the required prep time allow you to meet impatient delivery customers' expectations? 

Finally, invest in proper to-go packaging with vents and dividers that prevent your dishes from getting soggy. Check out our recent blog post on optimizing your delivery menu for food quality for more tips on ensuring an excellent off-premise customer experience.

2. Use categories to organize and simplify your menu design

Organize your delivery menu with categories that help customers easily navigate your off-premise offerings to find what they're looking for. Categories also help with readability on small smartphone screens, which is critical as more customers place orders on their mobile devices. In fact, a recent study of found that 70% of quick service and fast casual restaurant customers use mobile devices in their food purchasing journey

Categories can include classics like Entrees, Appetizers, and Sides, as well as Combos and Dinner for Two options that encourage large order sizes. Including a Popular Items or Best Sellers category is a great way to promote signature dishes and profitable items. And if you offer dishes for special dietary needs, highlight them in a Vegan, Gluten-Free, or Keto category. 

Alternatively, you can create categories that are unique to your restaurant offering. For example, Duck Duck Goat (bottom left) has categories for Main Dishes, Soups, and Desserts, but also displays "Combo Options" of their most popular items in a special combo category. Aba's menu (bottom right) offers a chef's special category that includes limited-time items in a "Chef's Feature Picked by You!" category.

Two phones side by side

Again, it's best practice to limit the number of items per category to avoid decision fatigue. With that in mind, narrow your delivery menu to about seven or fewer items in each category.

3. Improve your menu design with high-quality photos

It's no secret that people eat with their eyes first and love scrolling through food photos — that's why #food is one of the most popular hashtags on Instagram. But did you know that adding photos to your menu design can actually boost sales? A recent analysis of thousands of DoorDash menus revealed that menu photos were the top factor in determining a merchant's success on the platform. Make your delivery menu irresistible with high-resolution, appetite-inducing photos of each of your dishes — and not just your entrees, but sides, desserts, and other add-ons. 

For delivery menu photos, quality is key — avoid photos that are blurry, too zoomed in (or zoomed out), or stock images that will turn customers off. Additionally, be sure to capture an authentic representation of your dish so potential guests know what to expect and are not disappointed. 

New DoorDash partners get a free professional photo shoot to help drive sales. To get the most out of your food photo shoot, keep these factors in mind: 

  • Presentation: Just like with dine-in dishes, presentation is key in your delivery menu. Photograph each item separately and eliminate distractions such as sides (if they're not included in the dish), signage, or layered-on graphics. 

  • Background: Use a natural background such as a counter or wooden table with a clean, neutral surface. Consider styling it with simple accoutrements like cloth napkins, chopsticks, and garnishes. 

  • Lighting: This is possibly the most important consideration in food photos. Find a place with natural lighting to give your dishes the spotlight they deserve. 

  • Angles: Experiment with different angles, such as from above, which is popular on Instagram, or from the side for dishes with height, such as burgers and burritos. 

Menu photos shot from above

Examples of delivery menu items shot from above to show the entire dish.

Menu photos from side

Examples of delivery menu items shot from the side to show a cross-section of ingredients. 

4. Write compelling menu descriptions

To optimize your delivery menu design, craft descriptions that go beyond a list of ingredients and give a preview of the guest experience. Provide a vivid teaser of the dish's taste, appearance, and texture, and use luxurious adjectives like rich, creamy, tender, and succulent. 

Cater to Millennial food trends by highlighting sustainability efforts, such as pasture-raised meat, wild-caught fish, or organic ingredients. If you source any items locally, consider including the name of the farm. 

You can also tap into guests' nostalgia by adding words like home-cooked, traditional, or even "Grandma's," and find opportunities to highlight international cuisines with words like Cajun, Laotian, or Greek. 

Here's an example that puts these tips into practice. Which of these dishes would you rather order? 

  • Oatmeal with blackberries.

  • Home-style oatmeal topped with Stony Point Farm blackberries and a drizzle of real maple syrup. 

All that said, don't get carried away and accidentally write a novel for each delivery menu item. While vibrant adjectives and heartwarming details are helpful, what's most important is keeping your descriptions short, accurate, and easy to understand. 

5. Drive upsells with modifications & add-ons

The same DoorDash menu analysis found that customization is another top factor for merchant success. Allowing reasonable modifications helps restaurants attract a wide range of customers who want to tailor orders to their taste. For example, a restaurant might lose a delivery sale if the customer can't be sure their dish will be mild, medium, or spicy. 

Customizations can also be an opportunity to optimize your menu design for upsells and bigger ticket sizes. Include size modifiers so customers can get larger fries or soup bowls for an upcharge. You can also offer add-on toppings for a fee, such as adding chicken or salmon to salads, or avocado to bowls and burgers. DoorDash's built-in upsell features include add-on recommendations for sides, desserts, and beverages at checkout. 

Depending on the cuisine and kitchen operations, customizations may make more sense for some restaurants than others. Alisa Gmelich, vice president of marketing at IHOP recently told FSR magazine that more than 80% of their orders — from eggs to pancakes to bacon — were customized in some way. But if your staff is so bogged down in customizations that your delivery wait times suffer, rethink your menu design and choose a customization strategy that makes sense for your business.

6. Keep your delivery menu up to date

One of the advantages of online delivery menus is that as your offerings change, you don't have to redesign your menu and print new copies. Instead, you can easily adjust your delivery menu in real-time if you run out of certain items or ingredients. DoorDash partners can use a tablet or the Merchant Portal to easily add or edit new items, update pricing, temporarily deactivate dishes, or remove them from your delivery menu altogether.  

Be sure to stay on top of inventory changes at all times so your delivery menu is always accurate. You never want to disappoint a customer by telling them their highly anticipated order is no longer available. 

Finding the delivery menu outliers

Of course, there will always be exceptions in an industry that includes such a wide variety of businesses. For example, while the "less is more" approach to delivery menu design makes sense for most restaurants, customers have different expectations for different cuisines. The same DoorDash menu analysis found that Chinese restaurants with longer, more complex menus tended to drive higher sales than those with streamlined menus. This is perhaps because guests expect Chinese menus to have a long list of items with detailed categories and multiple regional specialties, as it's a sign of authenticity. 

Optimize your menu design with data 

While the above tips are industry best practices, it's best to leverage your own restaurant sales data to make decisions about your delivery menu design. DoorDash partners can use the Merchant Portal to access analytics and trends about most popular items, new and returning customers, average order size, and delivery sales over time. These data points can help restaurant owners make informed decisions about how to optimize their delivery menus to increase off-premise orders. 

Ready to increase your delivery and pickup sales? Become a DoorDash partner today. 


Sara DeForest

Sara DeForest


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