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Menu Descriptions


hathor
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We wrestling with our menu descriptions and I'm curious. Do people like to see every ingredient listed? Do romanticized descriptions intrigue you or turn you off?

And if you are traveling in a foreign country (say Italy)....do you want an English menu or is it more fun to learn and experience the language?

I'm a fan or short, no nonsense descriptions with just a key ingredient(s) listed. There is a restaurant in Philadelphia, has the word cat in the name, but I can't remember the name of the restaurant...that has to win the award for longest menu descriptions.

What do you appreciate in a menu? Other than print large enough and bold enough to actually be readable.

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Ciao Judith,

I'm a fan of the less is more school - do we really need to know that the figs a restaurant is serving were hand picked at 9 this morning by dewy maidens (well, in that case, maybe!)?

I'm also a big fan of readability - this presbyopia thing sucks... :wacko:

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Hello- I like short descriptions too. And, as one who does not speak Italian, I would love to see the menu just in Italian. This would give me a reason to talk to my waiter/ess. Also, I would like to point out that even here in the U.S, people often ask about foods in menus in Chinese resaurants, and those menus are written in English . Lastly, being given a menu in Italian would make me feel like I was eating in a place that locals frequent, and that would increase my enjoyment of the meal. One of my favorite and most memorable meals was an asian meal I had in Toronto. It was the only place I ever went that automatically gave you chopsticks, you would have to ask for a fork :cool: This bit of authenticity increased my enjoyment of an already amazing experience. So, that is why I think you should have a menu that is only in Italian.

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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Ciao Naftal. You have neatly summarized our philosophy in having an Italian only menu. We just felt that it would encourage a rapport between us and our customers. I was hesitant at first because most of the restaurants in our area are dual language, but I think that we made a good choice.

presbyopia ? Is that what happens to you old people where you start needing longer arms?? :laugh::laugh:

Our menus must be too pretty...they keep getting stolen! Ask for a menu if you want a souvenir....I'll even autograph it! :laugh::raz:

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Are your menus hand printed or machine printed? If done by machine, maybe just make a few "extras" for souvenirs; can they be made in miniature form?. I used to work in the printing & publishing trade in Canada, and would recommend this to restaurant clients who had pretty menus. The cost "per each" becomes less when you print more. :-) You *could* even make some mention of that on the menu or bill... suggesting that visitors who would like a fresh/clean souvenir menu to take home could ask at the host... possibly less expensive to print the souvenir menus than to purchase advertising space elsewhere. Just think of the worldwide distribution possibilities.

Karen Dar Woon

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oh, and about the menu itself: if your servers & support staff are comfortably multi-lingual, then Italian-only menus please. Name of dish w/ brief description of key ingredients. Of course, staff would have a cheat-sheet in the back, in order to answer the "I have an allergy to..." queries.

Can you post a photo of your menus? :-) please?

Karen Dar Woon

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The main thing I look for in a menu is accuracy. It can be long or brief and succinct so long as it accurately describes what I am ordering. The only time I accept otherwise is if I know the restaurant likes to "play" with their food and their descriptions - but even then there should be a basis for a description and not pure whimsy.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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See Menu graphic design thread.

A good way to incorporate "fluff" copy while still allowing the reader to quickly scan is to have three sections for each menu item, a title (Steak tartare), short description (Chopped raw beef) and fluff (Super fancy beef from a cow named Daisy).

This cocktail menu from Chambar (PDF) in Vancouver uses the three-section strategy, though a bit differently than how a food menu would.

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The main thing I look for in a menu is accuracy. It can be long or brief and succinct so long as it accurately describes what I am ordering. The only time I accept otherwise is if I know the restaurant likes to "play" with their food and their descriptions - but even then there should be a basis for a description and not pure whimsy.

Count me in the accuracy camp. I have had consistently disappointing experiences with inaccurate descriptions, whether detailed or concise.

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I like descriptions that describe the food as best as possible. Obviously, with more complex dishes the descriptions get longer, but I don't like long-winded descriptions.

And my biggest pet peeve - French descriptions done by people who don't speak French (could be for any language, but I speak French so it bugs me in particular). Usually they are inaccurate (and often just plain wrong). Writing your menu with lots of French words might sound fancy to some, but it sounds rediculous when you get the words wrong.

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I like descriptions that describe the food as best as possible.  Obviously, with more complex dishes the descriptions get longer, but I don't like long-winded descriptions.

And my biggest pet peeve - French descriptions done by people who don't speak French (could be for any language, but I speak French so it bugs me in particular).  Usually they are inaccurate (and often just plain wrong).  Writing your menu with lots of French words might sound fancy to some, but it sounds rediculous when you get the words wrong.

I'm in the camp of short and sweet. I generally find the "X with y and z", "x, served with y, over z" "x, on a bed of y, with z" gets old fast. As far as whimsy, that depends on your clientèle. I was reading a thread about another restaurant on another food forum.. they had tuna that came with "snap berries"... which were actually POP ROCKS.

Also, when I see spelling/grammar mistakes, it always makes me skittish even before I see the food.. though thats a bit extreme, I know. I see one menu that had fish with "tarter" sauce in one descrition, and "tater" sauce on THE SAME PAGE.

Rico

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I'm also in the camp of short. Just the main ingredients and the way of preparation is fine.

I absolutely don't like made up fantasy names for food. For cocktails no problem. But I just loose my appetite when an entree is named: Joy from the Sea. With the description: "Salmon" and nothing else.

Incorrect spelling is also very irritating.

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Accuracy is key. I want to know if a dish is sweet, spicy or savory. If it has weird ingredients in it, I want to know. If an ingredient dominates it eg blue cheese/saffron/cilantro, I want to know.

That the rainbow trout was sourced from some fancy fish farm? Who cares? Tell me only if its wild caught, please.

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I get annoyed when there are minor but important ingredients left out of the menu description. A sauce with olives in it when there are no olives on the menu description? It completely changes the balance of the dish and wasn't at all what I was expecting. I'm not allergic but it's still annoying.

That being said, I'm also annoyed when something interesting or tasty is featured on the menu (bone marrow! yum!) and what's on the plate just has the tiniest piece of it.

I guess I'm hard to please in that regard.

PS: I am a guy.

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All good points, and I'll bring a menu home tonight to scan and post.

Oh....we're multi-lingual...Jeff speaks one lingua, and Martina can cover in Italian and French...and we all do amazing sign and sound language. We're small...so we can cover for each other.

Ok....what about this: we make a pesto with multiple nuts. The Italian words for mixed nuts is "frutta secca" which sounds like dried fruits. We don't want to list all the nuts....so for now, we are going with Pesto al Erba Luna, which doesn't really help a diner in making his choice.

We like to have conversations with our customers...it's Italy after all... but how do you feel about a generic description like "al Erba Luna"?

Edited by hathor (log)
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I get annoyed when there are minor but important ingredients left out of the menu description. A sauce with olives in it when there are no olives on the menu description? It completely changes the balance of the dish and wasn't at all what I was expecting. I'm not allergic but it's still annoying.

That being said, I'm also annoyed when something interesting or tasty is featured on the menu (bone marrow! yum!) and what's on the plate just has the tiniest piece of it.

I guess I'm hard to please in that regard.

No. I think that you are dead right. Olives are a pivotal flavor in a dish...unless you only get 1 olive.

I've had downright bizarre conversations with our italian partners in regards to vegetarian issues. Umbrians in particular simply don't understand why anyone would be vegetarian. I'm not taking sides on the issue, I'm just stating a fact. They seem to feel that if the predominant ingredients are vegetables, who would care if some meat was thrown in. It's a cultural thing, but it's been a difficult thing to explain.

Then again there was a customer who declared she was a vegetarian...except for lamb that was raised in a nearby field. She saw the lamb eating grass, and explained to us that this was why it was ok for her to eat. :huh::blink:

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Maybe it is because I have been living abroad for a year, traveling about in various places where I don't speak the language well if at all, but personally, I have grown weary of translating menus. And especially so if I am home! I go out to eat to eat, not to take a language lesson.

This week we ate at L'Auberge de I'ill in Illhaeusern, France. Wonderful food in a beautifully renovated farmhouse. The menu for our dinner was printed as a card for us to use during the meal, and to take along with us. The cover of the card was printed with a watercolor that was painted by a member of the family who owns the inn. Very nice. I did take it home, and later tried to translate the names of the dishes. I think the French was flowery to start with, then in my inept hands it turned silly - like "sparkling wine of carrots".

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Maybe it is because I have been living abroad for a year, traveling about in various places where I don't speak the language well if at all, but personally, I have grown weary of translating menus. And especially so if I am home! I go out to eat to eat, not to take a language lesson.

How about having a "plain-text-only" menu card available in other languages (English, French, German, Arabic?) This could include the name of the menu item, and brief list of key ingredients plus any common allergens and the existence (or not) of meat. There could be reference on your Italian menu in small print, in the language(s) you have available. i.e., To read this menu in English, please ask your server.

That way, the diner is allowed the esthetic experience of the beautiful menu, while at the same time able to make informed choices independent of his/her server, if that is desired. Guests who want to engage w/ the server will just start a conversation.

Karen Dar Woon

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Maybe it is because I have been living abroad for a year, traveling about in various places where I don't speak the language well if at all, but personally, I have grown weary of translating menus. And especially so if I am home! I go out to eat to eat, not to take a language lesson.

This week we ate at L'Auberge de I'ill in Illhaeusern, France. Wonderful food in a beautifully renovated farmhouse.  The menu for our dinner was printed as a card for us to use during the meal, and to take along with us. The cover of the card was printed with a watercolor that was painted by a member of the family who owns the inn. Very nice. I did take it home, and later tried to translate the names of the dishes. I think the French was flowery to start with, then in my inept hands it turned silly - like "sparkling wine of carrots".

But sparkling wine of carrots, sounds so much nicer than fermented carrot juice! :laugh:

I know what you mean about being weary, but when traveling, translating is part of the deal. I have very mixed feelings about all of this, and I doubt there is one definitive answer. The plain text menu is an option that we could explore.

I met 2 lovely Australian ladies yesterday who were outside the restaurant, and they were explaining to me the stress they felt when they couldn't translate a menu. To me, it was always fun...not stress. But, that's me.

We had a house guest once who just couldn't quite come to terms with the fact that she was in a real foreign country, and not some Disney land version of a foreign country. One of those, if I say it louder, they will understand me types. We went to a cafe-bar, and there was a newspaper laying on the table, she picked it up, glanced at it, threw it on the table and said, "How do they expect me to read this?"

Traveling where you don't speak the language is always an adventure. Somewhere on eG there is a thread about embarrassing gaffs.

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Just don't make the menu sound like any of the cheftestants on Top Chef season 1. Dear God, every time Tiffany would start with "Here we have...." and 8 minutes later, she's finished and the food is cold.

Here in the DC area, it is very common to note on the menu, where every blessed thing comes from. What farm, where etc. It seems to be a means of conveying to the customer that the chef sources locally and therefore, cares a great deal about the quality of the ingredients and supporting local producers. So, I appreciate spending verbage on that, just not a dissertation about what will be on my plate, what method was used to cook it or how it is aerosolized or made into powder form! :wink:

Edited by monavano (log)
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Why not produce an italian menu with a discreet "English menu available upon request" down the bottom? The italians get to have the italian menu, the hardcore travellers can luxuriate in their translating prowess and the typical traveller is accomodated for.

PS: I am a guy.

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At a beer hall in Munich the foreign language menus has little space ships in the corners...ya know for the Aliens. It was cute and the food was good, for a beerhall.

tracey

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Why not produce an italian menu with a discreet "English menu available upon request" down the bottom? The italians get to have the italian menu, the hardcore travellers can luxuriate in their translating prowess and the typical traveller is accomodated for.

that might work... Then again, it would blow Jeff's cover. He let's the english speakers struggle for a moment or two, and then asks, in his finest NY/Brooklyn accent, "Can I help you with the menu?" Gets a good laugh every time! :laugh::laugh:

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The two things I hope restaurants avoid in their menus are hyperbole and cliches. My wife thinks I am peculiar, but I refuse to order any dessert if the word "decadent" is in the menu description because that word is both hyperbolic and a cliche. I have my standards, irrational as they may be.

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