On a English menu , the food items can be arranged according to alphabetical order

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For a Chinese menu , there are no alphabet, only chinese characters , what would be alternative way best to arrange the chinese characters other than the answer i have mentioned

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  • 5
    Are you asking about a food/restaurant menu like in the pictures, or a navigation/gui menu for software like in the tags? Those are very different things...
    – mc01
    Sep 29, 2014 at 16:34
  • Indeed; why does this have pictures of print menus and yet tags for navigation menus? (And frankly it's rare I see a navigation menu organised by alphabetical order...) Sep 29, 2014 at 23:05
  • Most restaurant menus aren't organized alphabetically, even in English. They're organized thematically by when in the meal they're eaten and what they contain: appetizers with other appetizers, soups with soups, meat dishes with meat dishes. Oct 1, 2014 at 3:51

5 Answers 5


The English example above isn't a "menu" - it's a numbered list of arbitrary foods arranged alphabetically. It wouldn't make sense as a "menu" in a restaurant even in English.

A customer who wants a sandwich would likely be confused/frustrated trying to find all the various sandwich options scattered alphabetically across the page.

Since people don't tend to choose food by name, but first by meal or category, a "menu" needs further organization.

  • specials, breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, drinks
  • specials, appetizer, salads, entree, dessert, drinks

You'll find a similar structure in many menus regardless of the language or style of cuisine.

Chinese menus (in the U.S., China, and Taiwan in my experience) can be a bit different in that they tend to be organized by food content: appetizers, soups, noodles, rice dishes, chicken, beef, seafood, vegetarian, house specials, drinks (not necessarily in that order).

Within those categories, the specific style or type of cooking tends to be the next sub-category.

  • Rice

    • Chicken Fried Rice
    • Shrimp Fried Rice
    • Pork Fried Rice
    • Happy Family/Combo Fried Rice
    • Steamed Rice
  • Chicken

    • Hunan Chicken in some sauce
    • Szechuan Chicken in another type of sauce
    • Gen Tso's Chicken in a 3rd type of sauce
    • BBQ chicken (no sauce)
    • Stir-fried chicken w/veggies
    • Stir-fried chicken w/different veggies

This method of sub-categorizing helps to group related styles of dishes, but since the key component of the dish only comes at the end of the name, you couldn't really "alphabetize" it anyway.

There's really no discernible "order" beyond that as far as the name is concerned - not by character complexity, pronunciation, or by spoken tone. You could at that point order by price, popularity, or some other attribute.

If you really want to try, then you would use "radicals" or parts of characters that combine to make up more complex ones ... but considering that this doesn't seem to be the case in existing Chinese menus, I don't think it'd be understood or worth the effort.

... And after all that, I'm wondering whether you really wanted a "food" menu, or you're talking about how to structure a UI or navigation menu in Chinese. Actually, I think the same principles would apply - organization & sub-categories. Put the most important/frequently used items in more prominent positions.


Since it is a menu, you can group the dishes by the way they are cooked. If you have different menu for breakfast/lunch/dinner, you can order the the menu by the types first and then the way they are cooked.

It may be better to keep the popular ones at the top, and mark them as popular, so more customers will order them. In my opinion, you don't necessary need to order the dishes in the menu. However, if you have both Chinese and English dish names, it is better to order them using the English alphabetical order.


After giving this question some thought , I would arrange the chinese words according to its Hanyu Piyin which is the official phonetic system for transcribing the Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet

Example of Hanyu Piyin

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  • 1
    Pinyin is just as arbitrary as alphabetical order - it only works well for a dictionary or arbitrary list, not for a "menu" requiring logical structure. Chinese actually orders characters by the number of strokes used to write them, and groups them by "radicals" or components. That's still fairly arbitrary & would result in a completely different order from Pinyin. If your data/menu have structure, then you should group items accordingly - by function/purpose/or some similar characteristic. Order them further by what people are most likely to want to find, as verified by research data.
    – mc01
    Sep 29, 2014 at 16:51

As I saw your english menu I don't see a point of sorting in Chinese word. So you could simply put the words in ordering of their meaning in english. One more thing if their was a category too then you could have arranged your food item category wise similarly Chinese words would be categorised in that way. Rest your phonetic order sounds good.


I think it depends on the type of restaurant, the type of customers and the variety of dishes that you have. Some of the reasons why these are important considerations are:

  • You can order by the cost if people are price conscious/sensitive
  • You can group and order by the type of dishes (e.g. breakfast, lunch, dinner, all-day, entree, dessert items) if the place is open all day long
  • You can order by the type of dishes (e.g. beef, pork, vegetarian) if you need to cater for people with food preferences and allergies
  • You can order by the taste of dishes (e.g. spiciness, sweetness, cold or hot dishes) if there are seasonal or variations of cuisines available

And you can certainly take a combination of these approaches if more than one type of logic fits with your requirements.

I think if the menu was only in Chinese then it is probably not too difficult to manage, but if there is more than one language then you'll have to use one as the basis on which all the others will have to follow (and possibly break some of the logic, but hopefully it should be designed on criteria that would not require it to).

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