What application to design a simple restaurant menu?
July 1, 2014 3:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm designing a menu for a restaurant, with around 60 items.

They want it to be 8.5x11 folded vertically, so that they can print them out as needed and let customers take them with. Previously I used Photoshop, but that can be less than ideal for this sort of thing. Is there something better, that would allow easy updates to prices and whatever else?
posted by klinefelter to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would use InDesign.
posted by supercres at 3:06 PM on July 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Or even better, InDesign merged with a spreadsheet so they can keep prices and items in there, save it, and "recompile" the menu, as it were.
posted by supercres at 3:08 PM on July 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

As supercres said, Adobe InDesign is the go-to software in this situation. QuarkXPress used to be the industry standard, but its use has fallen off a cliff in favour of InDesign over the last decade or so. You could also use Adobe Illustrator and get similar results, if you're more comfortable with that.
posted by peteyjlawson at 3:23 PM on July 1, 2014

Assuming that price is no object (and/or you have access to Creative Suite), InDesign is definitely best for print layout. Illustrator would work but personally I find Illustrator really tough to use for print layout (I'm not a designer I just have to play one at work).

If you've only used Photoshop, InDesign shouldn't be hard to pick up (I figured it out myself). The thing to understand is that you're just doing layout. You add text and "place" images, but any image editing has to happen in Photoshop or Illustrator.

Also you should always convert your font to outlines before saving as PDF. But make sure to go back and reverse afterwards so that you can edit the text again later.
posted by radioamy at 3:35 PM on July 1, 2014

Who will be doing the (yearly? quarterly?) updating? If it is not you, I would not use InDesign, in any case, you'd be giving the printer a pdf.

If you do not have access to InDesign, here are some alternatives, none of which I've used.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:41 PM on July 1, 2014

You can find InDesign restaurant menu templates at DeviantArt and through google.
posted by qi at 3:42 PM on July 1, 2014

If I'd answered first, I would have said InDesign or Illustrator. I use both.

So those having been said, you can also do quite a few things with Microsoft Word if you are careful and judicious and consistent and clean. I use MS Word for corporate proposals and resumes, and folks are surprised that we can do what we do in Word. And for the love of tiramisu: use no drop shadows, no clip art, no outlined boxes.

Extra benefit: If you win the lottery and move to the French Riviera and do not want to spend your days updating menu prices, it's pretty easy for some assistant manager at the restaurant to go in and do that.

Example template but there are more out there.
posted by mochapickle at 3:48 PM on July 1, 2014

I'd hire it out. Get a designer you like. Make agreements as to deliverables and update charges. You make food. Make food. Let a designer design.

You can probably find one that will work for food.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:58 PM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

First who are you and what software are you use to using?

Secondly, who''s going to be updating the prices, you or the client?

Third, what kind of layout are they looking for? Something high end (Lots of photos and fonts creatively used) or a generic looking Chinese dive menu (slap some not so great photos on a page and just make sure everything is spelled right)?

Me, I use Indesign, because it's the best at doing layout and design while delivering high quality. But sounds like they want to print it themselves and easily update it themselves. Then Word or Microsoft Publisher might be your best bet. But oh man are they generally awkward to use for layout.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:04 PM on July 1, 2014

It's already been said enough times, but InDesign + data merge from Excel is the way to go, here. I am a page layout automation wonk by trade, and have used nine of the "10 Best Alternatives to InDesign." Sadly, zero of them are going to be usable and allow for easy updates.

Publisher (uggghhhh) is your second-best bet, and probably allows for some sort of horrendous Excel integration.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 4:10 PM on July 1, 2014

If you don't have access to InDesign, actually you might be able to do this with Word if you're careful and can deal with some fussing. This is assuming you want mostly text and a straightforward layout. Tables are going to be your friend here. You'll use tables (with transparent borders) to make sure that everything lines up. (This is how I've made really nice-looking printable forms).
posted by radioamy at 5:19 PM on July 1, 2014

Brandon, I'm very used to Photoshop, and to answer some others, I'm not a cook but a designer and photographer for quite some time. However, my designing has been done strictly in Photoshop because 1) it's what I'm used to and 2) I design mostly web graphics, logos, flyers, and other stuff that doesn't have lots of copy. I'll likely be doing the updates in the future, as well.

After downloading and looking at inDesign (and briefly reviewing some of the other alternatives), I'm feeling drawn back to Photoshop. Using layers, folders, and guides it seems possible to organize the project effectively, although I do like the idea of tying and excel spreadsheet to the layout project. It's a bit of a hacked use of the app, but I think it'll work. Any additional tips regarding Photoshop for a project like this would also be appreciated, though.
posted by klinefelter at 5:34 PM on July 1, 2014

People are making my head hurt.

If you are not going to hire it out we ned to know what OS you use and what programs you like.

I'm going to tell you to buy a mac and use Pages before I'll ever tell you learn or use Publisher. Put my eye out with a fork!

If you insist on doing it yourself then Indesign is probably the way to go. You can buy a month of CC, get what you want done, then cancel. Lather, rinse, repeat. Or just buy when you need updates.

You can buy Acorn and do everything you do in Photoshop. It's the wrong tool for the job, but it will work as well.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:39 PM on July 1, 2014

cjorgensen, don't do mac. And I'm not "hiring it out" because it's my job to do this stuff. I was just asking for some advice, which I was happy to receive in many posts above (thanks to all).

I use Windows 7 and Photoshop. Sorry for being vague initially. Cheers.
posted by klinefelter at 6:30 PM on July 1, 2014

Seems to me that the best tool for the job right now is the tool you're most familiar and comfortable with. It might be worth your while to experiment and play with some of the other programs later for future projects and updating, but not while a client is waiting on a project. Especially anticipating that they'll be asking you to make changes that might be simple in your 'home' workspace but not intuitive with an unfamiliar tool.
posted by Lou Stuells at 6:35 PM on July 1, 2014

Thanks Lou, I've come to that same conclusion. And for the record, it's not exactly a client, but my employer. I wear many hats at my job, and can confidently pull off most things thrown at me. But, I'm very willing to ask and learn. All advice given here is greatly appreciated.
posted by klinefelter at 6:45 PM on July 1, 2014

My go-to for something this simple would be Illustrator, not InDesign. I find the working environment to be less cluttered. The text tools are every bit as flexible and powerful as InDesign, and I think you'd find the working environment fairly familiar/similar to your beloved Photoshop (Using layers, folders, and guides).
posted by Thorzdad at 3:34 AM on July 2, 2014

I was a graphic designer for four years, and I agree that the best tool for the job is the one you have on hand that you are already familiar with. Lately, a lot of the menus I have been seeing have been simple, elegant, printed on a single sheet of paper, and uncluttered.

You can do that with Word. Half of the design work I do now I do on Apple's Pages. Obviously, these are not sophisticated layout programs, but I find I like the simplicity they force on me. There is nothing more powerful than text that has been clearly placed on a page.

It also has the advantage of being something that is easy to update and can be used by other people in a pinch.
posted by maxsparber at 8:18 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

However, my designing has been done strictly in Photoshop because 1) it's what I'm used to and 2) I design mostly web graphics, logos, flyers, and other stuff that doesn't have lots of copy. I'll likely be doing the updates in the future, as well.
Seems to me that the best tool for the job right now is the tool you're most familiar and comfortable with.

I agree with Lou Stuells. (And it looks like you do as well.

For my job, I do a LOT of stuff in Photoshop that it's not really meant for. Several times a year, I have to do conference agendas, which are very much like a menu; 11x17, folded to letter-size. I'm just so used to Photoshop, and have gotten so proficient at it, that it makes no sense to do it any other way. I also design and produce matching name badges, folder covers, note sheets, table-tents, etc. I save my files as print-quality PDF files and they print great whether on our own laser printers, or sent out to a print shop.

As long as you keep your text in its own layer(s), future editing is not going to be much of an issue.

That said, I sometimes do complicated, text-heavy brochures. Those I do in (gulp) Publisher, which I don't really like. But it's what my employer has, so there you go. And they turn out just fine. Once the thing is printed, no one knows what you created it in, nor do they care. (At home I'm definitely a Mac guy, so I would try Pages before spending for In Design.)
posted by The Deej at 9:02 AM on July 2, 2014

What Lou said. Work with the tools you're comfortable working with and know inside and out. If there comes a time when you will no longer be doing the updates (for which you will be paid I am sure?) then you can think about switching formats to make life easier for them.

And FWIW, 60 items is not a simple menu. 15-20 is.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:24 AM on July 4, 2014

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