Be careful with your printed menus

I have recently had the humbling experience of having to get either reading glasses or an extension to both my arms. I guess that this is just one of the more irksome aspects of getting on a bit, a process that had been relatively benign up until now. Interestingly, it was a restaurant visit that really drove the need home to me.

I was in one of the newer up-market restaurants in Melbourne that seems to place style and ‘coolness’ way above user friendliness. The place was almost full and the crowd were predominantly well heeled, over forty years of age. The lighting was tastefully dim and the ambience was comfortable and welcoming. So far, so good . . .

If you have an older market, make your menus and wine lists user friendly

I can’t read the menu

The wheels started to fall off when the young waiter brought the menu and the wine list. They both presented extensive choices that were printed in an incredibly small typeface, and I couldn’t read them, despite squinting so hard I must have looked quite demented. I ended up slinking off to the toilet with the wine list where the lights were bright enough for me to make a selection.

More amused than annoyed, because I could hardly blame the restaurant for my own optical shortcomings, I returned to my guests and made what later turned out to be an excellent selection. The same farce was repeated with subsequent bottles of wine — possibly too many times really; because I recall waking up the next morning feeling like a goat slept in my mouth.

Anyway, a short time after I swallowed my pride and went and got my eyes tested, and left the optician’s the proud owner of a brand new pair of specs. They were great, I saw the lines on my hand for the first time in years, and small print stopped shimmering and became crystal clear. Problem solved, I ventured out into the world with a new found clarity and confidence.

I am not alone

The purpose of a menu is to sell. If your customers can’t read it they won’t spend as much.

Since that experience I have noticed quite a number of other people in restaurants holding out their menu or wine list at arms length while they struggle to decipher the offerings. You know how you notice things after a particular personal experience? There is an argument that says they should go visit an optician too, but there is also a compelling counter argument that suggests that perhaps some of these restaurants should rethink some of their merchandising.

If your target market is the over 35’s, which is quite common because this is where a lot of disposable income resides, perhaps it would be a good thing to consider the whole dining experience from the perspective of someone that age, rather than that of the twenty something year old head waiter, or whoever devised the menu and wine list. I don’t suppose they even give it a thought.

Now you may think I’m being pedantic here, and I possibly am, but keeping the specs in the pocket is a matter of pride to us old folk. I keep imagining one of my bachelor mates, in the midst of the courtship dining ritual with the goddess of their dreams, having to pull out the Johnny Howard specs in mid seduction just to order a bottle of wine. It could destroy the magic and the chances, couldn’t it? All of a sudden Mel Gibson turns into Bill Gates.

The whole issue could be avoided by just using a reasonable size typeface on the menu. Then we could read it with ease while feigning 20:20 vision. Little details like this make for a fulfilling experience, but reading the menu is only half the problem. We then get into very scary territory — what is the menu actually saying to you?

Filling your selling tools with obscure language will not your help sales

If they don’t understand it, they won’t order it.

I’ve been in the hospitality industry for over thirty years now, and people expect me to have a reasonable knowledge of food and wine, which I think I have — but I still get asked regularly to decipher menu items for guests at my table and I don’t have a clue what they are. Most of the time this is because they are written in that mystical language called culinary jargon. I always feel embarrassed and somewhat inadequate when this happens.

I can only imagine what the rest of the public go through. You know, the people who only have a rudimentary knowledge of food but who want to go dining out and enjoy themselves without stressing out or appearing to be philistines. I suppose they just skip those dishes and the Head Waiter later tells the Chef: ‘The Parmier with Ganache and Syllabub isn’t selling, We should probably take it off.’

It can get farcical

It gets really farcical when you go out to dinner with a top Chef and even he can’t decipher the menu. This has happened to me several times. Once, several years ago we even asked the waiter, who didn’t know either and advised us to choose something else.

I guess it’s all about professional merchandising, really. For those of you who aren’t quite sure what this means, it could be interpreted as making your food as appealing and as easy to buy as possible. Some of you make it quite hard for your customers. The purpose of a menu is communication; if it does not communicate, it won’t sell.

Think of all the time, money and effort you have taken to lure customers in to your business. It would be a shame not to make the most of them while they are there, wouldn’t it?