We associate the menus with photographs to tourist traps. Instead they are just the most effective communication tools. Are the sealed menus about to set? Google, Deliveroo and even two three-Michelin-star chefs say yes (and dust off pictures)
There are different types of writings, this is technically an invective. Against the menu that are in fashion today. In the space of a few years we passed from the insistent description of raw materials and processing to hermeticism. The Spaghetti with tomato sauce no longer exists. First it was all one Taldeitali spaghettone bronze drawn with 12-hour San Marzano cherry tomato coulis and basil confetti. Then we switched to Tomato / Basil. From pink romance pornography with a flood of winking descriptions, to small yellow book clues. From taking off every surprise of what you will eat, to not understanding not even what you are ordering: will it be a first or a second? With the deconstruction of the menu and the multi-purpose dishes, even to understand what course is being ordered has become a quiz. The more timid try to be on the safe side, the curious baffle the waiter with questions, the majority ends up discovering that he would have ordered the nearby table plate.
The dictatorship of the fixed menu
There were the mileage menus, the plastic ones, in which from the A of Appetizer of the House to Z of sautéed Zucchini, you could order almost any dish ever born since the times of Artusi. Then increasingly shorter, seasonal, rotating lists, tasting menus "recommended" for the whole table. Eventually the menu also became superfluous, once the restaurant was chosen, it is given.
Having a card means more line work, more raw materials to find every day, more dishes to prepare, having to deal with the clients' impromptu requests. In the name of "no waste" and the philosophy of the chef, it is better to do as he says. In many gourmet restaurants the choice is between a longer menu, new dishes, and a shorter and more economical one, with great classics; in others the trend can be chosen only between the quantity of courses (7, 9, 25 …), sometimes not even that. From Copenhagen to Colombia, the trend is the mono-menu, rather than a tasting it is a set menu and to be able to choose you must be mortally allergic to something.
I wonder what could be wrong in making customers understand what they are going to order.
The efficient menu
The menu with the photographs is cheap, makes tourist restaurant on the passageways with "throws in" at the entrance. Or it is the most effective and efficient means of communication available in the image society we live in today. Someone arrived there. Massimiliano Alajmo in Piazza San Marco at Grancaffè Quadri illustrated the menu with lots of photos to explain unequivocally what comes when you order the Continental Breakfast or the aperitif. Ok, Venice is a tourist city with people coming from every corner of the world, without necessarily speaking fluent English, but when the menu illustrates it you find it from ALT Station of taste, half of the truck restaurant half autogrill in the deep province of Abruzzo, in Castel di Sangro, means something. Niko Romito it is a practical one that looks to the point.
Without the need to know how to read, to order just point a finger. And especially in the case of exotic kitchens and unknown recipes, the image is a universal language. For us Italians the difference between spaghetti and tagliatelle is clear, but will it also be clear for those coming from the Congo? The illustrated menus are very popular in tourist cities as cultural mediators, as in restaurants with international cuisine. I challenge for an Italian to know the difference between a taco, a tostada, a quesadilla and nachos. From tex-mex chains in shopping malls to Italian restaurants in the world, illustrated menus help waiters and customers.
From American diners to Japanese wax sushi
In America the phenomenon of illustrated menus began even before restaurants could afford to take photographs. The illustrations were cheaper and the filling of the courses became the job of the professionals in the tempera. It was thus until the democratization of the printing processes in the 1950s, when the spread of food photographers and food stylists became popular. The idea was practical: to explain to everyone, even without having to read, the nature of the dishes, to make them more palatable and understandable, to be ordered at a glance by levering on the mouth watering.
In Asia, photo menus are the norm, in China as in Japan, where even the explanation becomes 3D with bowls of ramen and sushi in wax. "Cooking" i sampuru (from the English sample, example) were born a century ago just to explain the nature of dishes then unknown and took hold to make life easier for tourists; and to the Japanese who are notorious for having foreign languages as badly as Italians. It works.
The history of the menus
The menus of the restaurants are ethnographic finds of our history, anthropological expression of our society. In lustres of distance they end up exposed in museums, in the center of studies, published in collections like Menu Design in America, 1850–1985 published by Taschen. I wonder what posterity will think by browsing through the menus of these years and how it will be easy to interpret the phenomenon with the benefit of hindsight. In the meantime, I wonder what could be wrong in making customers understand what they are going to order.
Having a photographic menu requires a high production cost and historically in fact applies to restaurants where the card changes approximately every decade or those who cook the classics, and find generalist photos of databases. It is true that it does not fit the chef's impromptu creativity or cuisine du marché, but would help life to everyone else, that is, the silent majority. Customers.
The online revolution
Google Maps has just introduced a Menu tab for restaurants and is studying a feature to associate the written menu item and price with the exact photo of the dish. In the online ordering apps photographs are quickly taking over, they are already a feature available on Deliveroo, although in Italy still few restaurants are seizing this opportunity. In rooms where orders are placed via iPad, software producers have shown that photographs make ordering faster, customer satisfaction rates higher and limit misunderstandings and complaints. Beautiful images even raise the average receipt.
The experts, alias the consultants, argue that a good menu can also grow 20% of restaurant receipts (up to 27% if the description gives a precise origin to the ingredients). This was explained by Oxford professor Charles Spence in his book Gastrophysics: the New Science of Eating. "Naming the farmer who grows vegetables or specifying a pig's breed can help add authenticity to a product. Consumers consider it a sign of quality, and words can make a dish more attractive . Wordtelling in words works, but imagine beautiful photos. We live in the society of the image and the appearance deceives, less and less.
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