How to Design a Fast Casual Menu: The Secret Sauce for Success

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Noah Edis
March 17, 2023
A trendy fast casual restaurant with an open concept and customers scattered throughout the space.

Are you looking to get up-to-speed on fast casual menu design? This trendy new style of restaurant has enjoyed an incredible gain in popularity over the last few years, with the global market estimated at a value of around USD 189.7 billion in 2022 and projected to grow 11.5% by 2028. 

What is a Fast Casual Restaurant?

Fast casual restaurants are a type of restaurant that offer freshly made meals at an affordable price with fast service and often limited table service. This style of dining is popular for its convenience, quality ingredients, and quick turnaround time. 

Fast Casual vs. Fast Food

A fast casual restaurant is similar to traditional fast food restaurants, but with some key differences. Here's a quick breakdown:  

  1. Quality of ingredients. Fast casual restaurants typically use fresh, higher-quality ingredients than their fast food counterparts.
  2. Atmosphere. These popular establishments usually have a more modern, inviting atmosphere.
  3. Price. Fast casual restaurants tend to cost slightly more than fast food restaurants.
  4. Service. Fast casual restaurants don’t tend to offer traditional table service, but they may deliver food to the customer’s table and offer more customization when ordering.

Now that you know what sets fast casual apart from traditional fast food, let's explore how menu design plays a role in creating an enjoyable dining experience.

How to Design a Fast Casual Menu

If you’re struggling to create a menu design for your fast casual restaurant, or you’re updating your current menu, look no further, we’ve got you covered. Follow these suggestions for a menu that will appeal to customers and boost sales.

Things to Consider When Preparing Your Fast Casual Menu

Before you begin, you must do your homework to have all the information you need for your menu. Some of the decisions you have to make include:

Preparation Time and Difficulty

When crafting your fast casual menu, consider how much time and effort will be needed for each dish. You may want to prioritize menu items that can have most of the prep work done ahead of time — like cutting up your veggies for sandwiches or pre-making salads and soups. 


Additionally, it's important to remember that not all dishes require professional cooking skills. It's best to pick straightforward recipes that anyone can follow.

A fast casual restaurant worker preparing a poke bowl from their menu.

Pricing

When pricing your fast casual menu, you want to ensure that customers can access good quality food at a price they can afford. At the same time, you need to make money too, so you must price your items high enough to give you a reasonable profit margin.


Rising food costs and supply chain shortages can make this difficult, but there are ways to manage your prices and keep costs down. Here are some tips for keeping food costs low: 

  1. Research the current market cost of ingredients and adjust accordingly
  2. Use value-added items like pre-cut vegetables or frozen proteins
  3. Source from local suppliers when possible
  4. Make use of seasonal produce when available
  5. Reduce food waste
  6. Utilize digital ordering technology for increased efficiency

By being mindful of the costs associated with your menu items, you can ensure that customers get access to quality dishes at a price they are willing to pay — and you can increase your profit margins.

Dietary Restrictions

As you’re designing your menu, it’s important to consider the needs of all customers. While you want to keep your menu simple, it’s also essential that you offer a variety of dietary options


To make sure everyone is satisfied with their meal, here are some things to consider: 

  1. Vegetarian and vegan dishes. Offer a selection of meatless meals for those who follow plant-based diets.
  2. Gluten-free dishes. Create gluten-free alternatives for guests with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. 
  3. Dairy-free items. Design meals without dairy products for those who are lactose intolerant.
  4. Low carb options. Include dishes with high protein and fewer carbs to suit the needs of individuals on keto or other low-carb diets. 
  5. Nut-free dishes. Prepare meals without nuts to accommodate guests with allergies. 

Choosing dishes for your menu may seem complicated, but with careful planning, you can create a selection of meals that will satisfy everyone.

A colorful cob salad from a fast casual restaurant.

How to Design Your Fast Casual Menu

Now that you’ve made the hard decisions, the fun part starts. It’s time to pick your menu design and write appetizing descriptions for each dish. While you do this, consider these five things:

1. Keep it Simple

When it comes to designing your fast casual menu, simple is always best. Here are some tips for making sure your menu is easy to navigate and understand:  

  1. Use clear, bold headings to make the food categories stand out and help customers quickly find what they want.
  2. Stick with one font throughout the menu to keep things neat and professional. 
  3. Don’t offer too many options, as it can overwhelm customers; just stick with items you know people will love. 
  4. Avoid adding too much color or graphics, as this can be distracting. 
  5. Use bullet points to break up the menu and make it easier to read. 
  6. Keep descriptions short and to the point, so customers can get a good idea of what’s available without being confused by too much detail. 
  7. Don’t forget about pricing. Ensure this is clearly visible next to each item, so customers know the exact cost before ordering. 

By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way toward creating an easy-to-navigate fast casual menu that will keep your customers happy and coming back for more.

A fast casual menu with images and easy to read font.

2. Keep Up With the Trends

Keeping up with the trends is vital when designing a successful fast casual menu. To stay ahead of the game, make sure you’re aware of what consumers are looking for — like plant-based meat alternatives that have become increasingly popular in recent years. 


Offering trendy options could be a great way to attract new customers and keep up with the changing times.

3. Use Descriptive Language

Choose words that are descriptive and inviting — think "crispy", "tender", and "flavorful". This will encourage customers to try the dish and build their anticipation for a delicious meal. Don’t forget to highlight unique ingredients or flavors in each item. 


With vivid descriptions of your dishes, you can create an exciting menu that will surely please all who visit your restaurant.

4. Highlight Your Specialties

Remember, you have something special to offer diners — your unique dishes. Showcase these signature items on your menu by making them stand out from the rest. 


Feature them at the top of the list, and use words like 'signature' and 'specialty' to denote that these are dishes created specifically for your establishment. This will draw attention to them and make it easier for customers to identify which items are truly one-of-a-kind. 

5. Consider the Layout

Ensure customers can quickly find what they're looking for in your menu design. Try organizing items into sections like appetizers, entrees, and desserts. You can also group similar items together, such as salads or sandwiches, so customers don't have to search the entire menu.


Lastly, use white space and images effectively so the eye isn't overwhelmed when scanning the menu. This makes it easier for customers to focus on specific dishes and decide quickly.

Final Thoughts on Fast Casual Menu Design

Designing an effective fast casual restaurant menu is essential for success. While it can be overwhelming to decide which items to offer customers, by using our handy tips, you can create a memorable dining experience that keeps customers coming back. 


By utilizing fast casual restaurant software like Push, you can easily manage your HR, payroll scheduling, time tracking, and more, all in one platform — allowing you to spend less time managing operations and more time perfecting your menu. 


So if you're looking to open a fast casual restaurant and want the best technology available, book a demo with us and see just how easy it can be to manage your team.

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