Can You Read The Menu?

homejournal 0712

HERE’S A SUGGESTION aimed at dimly lit restaurants with menus printed in tiny font sizes: Stop it.

 San Diego has some beautiful eateries, with imaginative dishes and clever décor. But a night out on the town shouldn’t require that diners tote flashlights and Sherlock Holmes-sized magnifying glasses.

This gripe is aimed to be free advice to restaurateurs. Because the public won’t order the $45 filet mignon on a designer bed of pureed potatoes if they have to squint and strain to read it on the menu.

 While not a die-hard foodie, I am definitely foodish. You could call me fiscally food conservative, but food-forward on most dining issues. Needing to know where the spots are that serve melt-in-your-mouth Chilean sea bass is an occupational hazard for a lifestyles magazine editor.

 Granted, my computer screen is zoomed to 125 percent as I type this column. Yes, I confess that my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. But that’s because some of the best years of my life were spent peering into unforgiving computer screens. And as a kid I chose to disbelieve that eating carrots enhanced your vision. But friends — ones with and without prescription eyewear — support the conclusion from my anecdotal research: Too many menus may as well be written in HTML code.

 If you’re a tech type who generally reads and writes in HTML (a language whose elements are the basic building blocks of webpages), there’s a possibility you’re a youngster. And maybe, for now, you can read any list of appetizers. Even one written in sports page agate-size type, printed in black ink on purple paper and served in a restaurant lit by a single candle hung from 15-foot ceiling rafter.

Rest assured, techsters, one day your eyes will betray you. You’ll star blankly at a poorly planned menu. To avoid embarrassment you’ll simply ask the server for a cheeseburger, medium rare. And then, wait to see if you are asked for a choice of home fries, coleslaw or fruit. 

For those of you from a generation for which HTML is as foreign as Mandarin Chinese, you already know what I’m talking about.

To restaurateurs who insist on cramming a hundred and four dishes onto one side of a menu, I say this: Good luck on your next venture. It’s already hard enough to make a go of a restaurant. Who wants to plan a return visit to a library where the books are printed in invisible ink?


If, however, restaurant managers don’t want to treat menu design with the same due diligence of any capital investment decision, here’s a last piece of advice: Kill the wine list. Instead, sell advertising space on the back page to doctors who perform Lasik operations.


-Ron Donoho

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