Menus can be difficult things. Sitting in our local pub at the weekend, Becky and I were astounded by the total nonsense they had cluttered their menu with; so many superfluous words, ‘quirky’ descriptions of pub grub staples, and wildly inappropriate (and probably misleading… but we did not actually eat there) terminology for a menu. I like having a good grumble about these things as much as the next boozer bound miserable old codger, but I thought I would do some research into the ‘theory’ of menus. It transpires it is something of a science.
Don’t get me wrong; I am a firm adherent to the school of thought of using many words when one would do nicely, but something about a pie being described as “friendly” gets my hackles up. Nor indeed could a limp lump of chicken, fried to within an inch of its very existence in a greasy pub kitchen in Oxford, best be described as “Authentic”, and please don’t get me started on why burgers have to be served on a stray roof tile or plywood plinth. And breathe.
Anyhow, in a really informative article in New York Magazine, William Poundstone dissects the marketing tricks built into menus—for example, how something as simple as typography can drive you toward or away from that £39 steak, and explains puzzles, anchors, stars, and plowhorses. So now we know. It’s well worth a read, but sadly wont stop your “sun drenched, dressing drizzled, superfood, hand pulled, artisanal, 120% corn fead beef patty” (aka the beef burger) arriving on a Ford Escort’s hubcap, or rusty garden trowel.