Why a Chain Restaurant Redesigned Its Menu

The Atlantic’s Megan Garber went to an IHOP restaurant recently and noticed that the menu was designed in a very specific way — well-organized, color coded, full of photos. The menu went through a redesign after the restaurant chain noticed that customers weren’t aware that they offered so much more beyond pancakes (though if I’m going to an IHOP, the thing I probably want is pancakes).

The menu IHOP ended up launching was one of three prototypes Franco and her team considered and market-tested; this version uses a “catalog” approach to presenting food offerings. It prioritizes images over text, with large pictures of food offerings studding the menu’s pages. It also offers color-coding — a feature meant, in part, to draw the eye toward certain food offerings and categories. Perhaps the most important change from the previous menu, though, was a grouping system that categorized food items into neat culinary taxonomies: pancakes on this page, omelettes on this one, etc.

“The menu needed some logic in its layout,” Franco says. And, nearly two years after that logic was introduced, she thinks the taxonomic approach has paid off. “Now guests and consumers are self-identifying products that they think are new,” she says. Those items were always on the menu, for the most part; it’s just that “they never noticed them.” The menu, she thinks, helped them to notice.

Going to chain restaurants were always a special occasion for my family so I have specific, nostalgic feelings for laminated menus at places like IHOP. I do appreciate a menu with photos, though. So many menus at “fancier” restaurants these days are simply a list of ingredients (“lamb loin, hibiscus-date, barley, aged goat cheese” — that’s straight from the WD~50 menu), and though that is a separate kind of dining out experience, it’s nice sometimes just to see the words “Rooty Tooty Fresh N’ Fruity” next to a giant stack of pancakes.

Photo: Sam Howzit

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