Friday, October 19, 2012

Chatter 46 A Restaurant’s Menu Tells You More Than Just What’s For Dinner

This article was contributed by Imogen Tyler. The menu pictured is from Eugenius.

Restaurant menus come in all shapes and sizes, but nowadays they offer more information than just what’s cooking in the kitchen. When you sit down to dine, your menu could speak volumes about the establishment you’re sitting in, providing details about everything from the history of the building to setting the tone of the eatery.
More than ever before, a menu represents the level of service customers can expect – so it ideally needs to reflect a brand’s inherent values in its design, tone of voice and materials. Menus can also be useful persuasive tools, which influence diners in their mealtime choices.
What makes a menu?
Tone of voice
Every restaurant has a unique character, so its personality should be reflected in the language used within the menu. For example, the menu for Buffalo Bill’s restaurant in Disneyland Resort Paris includes descriptive words to paint a picture in the theme of the Wild West. Simple re-naming of the foods to “Texan skillet”, “Cattleman’s chilli” and “Old-style potato wedges” flavours the food cowboy-style, before you’ve even picked up a fork.
This is a rather extreme example, but it is implemented throughout the restaurant industry to dictate everything from exclusivity in high-end establishments to cool, teen talk in burger joints.
At the other end of the spectrum, Gordon Ramsey’s Menu Prestige says it all in the title. The “Menu Prestige” offers a sense of high-end decorum from the amuse bouche to the mango parfait coconut dacquoise. This use of language fuels the fire that this is a high-brow establishment.
Gone are the days when a menu consisted of a single printed sheet of white paper; these days image is everything. Loud, bright colours and cartoon characters shout about a place that serves up fun with every bite. They also point towards food that is saturated fat-heavy and full of calories.
This menu shows imagery in which the main ingredient appears to be is cheese – so avoid venues with menus like these if you are trying to eat healthily. Unhealthy male and female diets are often encouraged by these types of advert, which promote binge eating with their eye-catching graphics, bright colours and descriptions like “overloaded” and “feast”. If you are dieting, it is a good idea to walk past diners like this with your eyes averted.
Many fast food outlets are trying to reinvent themselves at the moment, by promoting an image that’s less garish and offers a “healthier” option. Many McDonald’s restaurants have toned down their bright imagery, instead offering more muted pictures of wraps and salads to entice the healthy eating crowd.
Today you can create a menu out of anything – cut out an exotic shape in laminated card, print on recycled parchment, or bind your menu books in wood. Every choice a restaurant makes speaks volumes about the character of the place.
A vegan restaurant might choose to use only recycled materials, and obviously not bind their menus in leather. This furthers the notion that the restaurant is a sustainable, eco-conscious establishment, which truly believes in the idea that animal produce should not be used. If a restaurant has gone to the extent of sourcing all its food sustainably, there is no reason why it shouldn’t offer the same care and attention to all its peripheral materials. Re-usable chalk boards might be a good substitute here.
Menus with additional information
As a restaurateur, you may wish to provide extra information within your menu, which speaks of history, heritage, your business’ roots or your granny’s influence on the home-made meatloaf. The menu is the ideal location in which to do this, as it offers diners the opportunity to become invested in your brand values.
By offering these extra touches, you promote a restaurant with personality and flair – rather than a run-of-the-mill establishment – which allows people to “buy into” your idea. How many people would rather spend their money in a friendly, family run diner, as opposed to a faceless chain? But even faceless chains can stamp their own personality on the diner – Portuguese chicken chain Nandos, for example, provides lots of facts and jokes about Portugal and poultry on its menus. It can make for quite an interesting read.
So wherever you eat next, take a look at the menu – what does it say about the restaurant you’re eating in?

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