When it's well-written, a menu is your map to a restaurant experience. It tells you what kind of food to expect and how much it's going to cost. It might even give you a little insight into the chef and his or her vision for the restaurant. When it's poorly put together, a menu can be incredibly frustrating, annoying, and eye-roll inducing. Here are the five most irritating things about restaurant menus
May you never have to experience them yourself.
Menus that offer too many options lead to a phenomenon I like to call "The Cheesecake Factory Effect," an occurrence named after the restaurant famous for offering more than 200 options. The Cheesecake Factory Effect is when you spend half an hour reading through a restaurant's 15-page menu only to become paralyzed with indecision when the waiter returns -- for the third time -- to take your order. You panic, open to a random page and end up ordering something completely out of left field. Usually, this means you end up eating a $15 meatloaf or pork chop or some other generic dish you hate while salivating over your dining companion's much more sensible meal of choice.
Also irritating: Complicated build-your-own menus that require a nonexistent key to decipher.
This is one of the most offensive things a restaurant can do. Not having prices listed on your menu essentially tells the diner, "If you have to ask, you shouldn't be eating here." It's alienating and makes for one incredibly stressful dining experience during which you spend the whole meal dreading the moment you open the check to find out that -- surprise! -- your entrée cost $35. This is especially common with cocktail menus these days, and considering how much "craft" cocktails can cost, it's just as annoying.
Also irritating: When a server spends a half-hour explaining the evening's specials but fails to mention the price.
In the worst cases, vague menus list ingredients but fail to specify how the dish is actually cooked. Sorry, chef, but I don't know what you mean by "white fish | greens | butter sauce | sesame." I know I'm supposed to trust that you're going to make an amazing culinary creation with said ingredients -- which I'm sure you sourced from a nearby body of water or farm or whatever -- but the information you provided doesn't actually tell me anything about what you have planned for my dinner.
Also irritating: When only five ingredients are listed and your plate arrives with a half-dozen additional ingredients you spend your whole meal trying to identify.
Written on a Chalkboard
Don't get me wrong, I love chalkboards. I have a few in my house. That does not, however, mean I want to spend 10 minutes trying to decipher what your adorable multicolored chalkboard menu says from across the room. Who decided that it was such a great idea to have an employee hand-write your whole menu on chalkboards and then decorate it with little pictures of the food? At least have some printed versions to help me out. I am not a cyber-human with magnifying vision powers.
Also irritating: Printed menus with stupid, fancy fonts I can't read. If that's the alternative, I'd rather have a chalkboard.
As someone who writes about food, I totally understand how hard it is to resist the temptation to use adjectives that don't actually mean anything. But, really, why would you want to describe one of your dishes as "fresh"? Isn't everything on the menu fresh? The same goes for words including by not limited to: handmade, housemade, artisan . . . actually, just any of the words on this list. Also, when a menu item is named after some one or made "just like so-and-so did." I don't know your Aunt Jenny, and for all I know, her pie really sucks.
Also irritating: A restaurant's "world famous" anything. Next time I see that, I'm going to ask for their world-fame credentials.
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