If you are anything like me, you always look at restaurant menus with interest. Is that the hospitality manager in me or just my stomach talking?
Well, the truth is probably a little of both… It’s worse if I am on vacation, as the most important decision of the day is where to go for dinner, so a walk through the town stopping at every restaurant to browse the menu is the norm.
Occasionally you see a menu, or item on a menu, and all you can do is smile.
The smile is not really the happy smile you get when you see an amazing dish and your taste buds seem to be activated merely by the thought of it.
No, it is more of a “What the !@#$” type smile… What on earth is that dish? What were they on when they wrote this stuff? Are those even real words or just made up? You really just have to smile, shake your head and move on…
However sadly, this feeling of mild amusement is usually followed by frustration and annoyance, and is all too common. Poorly written, pretentious, and ill-conceived menu descriptions are seemingly everywhere and whilst in the past may have been limited to the “Chinglish” at the local Chinese restaurant, now pervade the dining scene with restauranteurs doing their upmost to out-do their competitor down the road.
The Oxford English dictionary defines a menu as “A list of dishes available in a restaurant” or “The food available or to be served in a restaurant or at a meal”.
Seems simple enough?
Well apparently not, as hoteliers, restaurateurs and chefs continue to find new ways to adulterate this list of food items that should be easy to understand. And what’s worse, the more pretentious the description, the higher the price apparently…
Now let me be clear, I do have a certain amount of sympathy with the operators as they strive to keep ahead of the competition and present their offering in a descriptive and appetising manner.
Fashion and trends also play a part, but I blame so called “Foodies” and restaurant critics who seem to endorse and perpetuate the pompous, overblown descriptions of the “bleedin’ obvious”. This is food snobbery at its best, or worst… It often reminds me of the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen, but I digress…
A well-publicised article by UK food critic Tom Parker Bowles a couple of years ago drew attention to this issue when he took to task the menu writer of a charity function. Some of the items included “Carpaccio of Maldivian long line caught yellow fin tuna’ – fanning an island of Rio Grande Valley avocado creme fraiche, topped with young coconut, with a splash of Goan lime, coriander and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds” in other words Raw Tuna with avocado and stuff. How about “Roasted Fillet of Australian Kobe Beef – nestling in a Kent garden of pea puree and accompanied by a succulent Spinach & Onion compote, to-die-for triple-cooked Maris Piper chips and Indonesian long pepper sauce” – read steak peas and chips… That’s not to mention the dessert where a Blackcurrant Soufflé was “snuggled up with a swirl of Kentish Apple”. I guess he was trying to justify the £10,000 a head price tag…
Let’s just stop all the made-up words, the use of 15 different languages, the “foams”, “smears” and anything “deconstructed”. Please resist the temptation to “harvest” or “forage” to “hand select” “house make” or “awaken” anything. Say no to lists of unconnected ingredients (Beef – Passion-fruit – Allspice – Arsenic…what!) or use other meaningless words such as “artisanal” or “curated”.
Let’s stick to menu descriptions that give you some idea of what you are actually going to see on your plate, without the associated twaddle…
For some additional reading on the subject, said far more eloquently than by me, see: –
How did food become so pretentious? – The Guardian
Pompous Menu Descriptions – SFGate.com
The Brooklyn Bar Menu generator
The 10 Most Annoying Words and Phrases on Menus, Ranked
Tim Johns is a former Hotelier and Managing Partner with Elite Search – a leading hospitality recruitment firm. For more information about Tim and Elite Search visit http://www.elitesearch.com.au and The Elite Hotelier http://www.elitehotelier.net