By Marsha Fottler -
In the months ahead when you eat out, expect to see less description about each dish and more single words spaced far apart often all in lower case letters.
The words on the menu will be the primary ingredients in the dish. This will be followed by more white space and then the price without the dollar sign. The dollar sign has been eliminated from most menus (except for casual dining chains and bargain places) because the theory is that if we diners don’t see dollar signs on a menu we’re less likely to think we’re spending actual money. Really? It’s a mind game according to restaurant consultants and hospitality experts say it actually works.
This minimalist-menu trend started in California (where most trends begin) and is trekking eastward shrinking menus in its path. Here’s a menu item from a new restaurant in my town, (far way from California). Clearly the chef got the memo about the new trend:
MANGO, CUCUMBER, MINT
peanuts, cilantro, lime…7
Kind of takes the romance out of menu reading doesn’t it. On the positive side, diners with allergies or dietary restrictions will be able to immediately spot which dishes are for them and which to avoid. Also, arranging a menu in a minimalist style means it won’t take you very long to read it.
On the negative side, listing the ingredients in this way misses the point. Words whet the appetite. Descriptions set up expectations which is what a restaurant kitchen wants. I don’t find anything compelling about listing six ingredients some in capital letters and some in lower case. To be honest, I don’t even entirely understand it. Is that mango-mint-thing a salad, a salsa, or a soup?
These minimalist menus will ultimately result in more interaction with your server because that server is going to have to explain nearly everything being offered that night. Servers will have to learn the daily specials thoroughly and be ready to defend and de-code something like this which I took from another local menu:
“alabama & asia” 5
I’m assuming this is an appetizer and that it has something to do with a spin on traditional deviled eggs, but a little more information would be welcome. Here’s another:
SOMETHING FROM THE GARDENS…19
Now, that requires a leap of faith. But the fruits and vegetables must be important because the menu suggestion is all in capital letters.
Trends in menu writing come and go. For a while restaurateurs wanted photos or art work on their menus. Then they wanted long romantic back-stories about ingredients and authentic recipes. Then, it was all about sourcing the farms, gardens and ranches where the vegetables grew organically and the animals were born free and roamed the land until the fatal moment when they went from farm to table.
Now we’re in a pared-down phase. These new-age menus seem dull and flat to me, more like a tweet than anything else. But, it is only a phase. Something new is perking along in the far west and a year from now menus will look entirely different than they do today. Until then, I’m making friends with my server and asking a lot of questions that these minimalist menus don’t begin to answer.