Chances are, you’ve seen your fair share of restaurant menus, enough to appreciate the common elements presented in most menus. While the size, fonts and overall look and feel varies from place to place, the layout of the information generally follows a well known format. This format follows the timeline of the meal, from start to finish (appetizers, entrees, dessert). There are plenty of variations on this, especially when it comes to titling these sections (starters for appetizers), or adding subsections (“from the grill”, “from the sea”), but the linear format almost always present.
Occasionally, and with varying results, some people break away from this format. When poorly executed, it can be confusing for the diner. However, when done well, the menu can offer an additional layer of information in a way that is easy to digest. Take the dinner menu at Fishtag as an example. The reviewer at the New York Times finds it “difficult to navigate”, but I think it has some potential. The food is presented in an order of lightest to heaviest, small and large plates are mixed together. This allows for beverage pairing recommendations in the margins on both sides. The only indicators that a particular plate is an appetizer are the red font color and, of course, the price.
The red font color can be a bit confusing since it seems kind of random at first glance as there is no legend provided for what the red color means. Does it mean spicy? Are these items recommended by the chef? Are these things red because the menu designer thought it would look pretty? It is even more confusing when compared to the beverage menu. Beverages are grouped by type (white wine, rice wine, beer, etc.), then by flavor profile, which matches the pairing suggestions the food menu. Nice. But, the red font color on the beverage menu is used only to set off detailed descriptions of each item.
Granted, the readability of the menu is but one small component of the overall restaurant experience and the staff probably offers some guidance before leaving the diner with the menu. But, a good menu layout is much easier to execute than consistently delicious food and stellar service. So, why not improve on something that is potentially confusing? Perhaps some iconography to designate small plates and italics for the beverage descriptions would let people concentrate on what food and drink to order rather than puzzling over what all this red means.