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October 19th, 2011

What’s on the Menu?

BY Jennifer Fink

Consider a typical dining experience. Regardless of cuisine, style or city, whether a fine dining restaurant, cafe, or diner, there is one common factor that is arguably the most integral element of the experience: the menu.


Yet, the menu is an art that has been seriously under considered – until now.  As a division of UnderConsideration, the website Art of the Menu innovatively explores the discipline of menu design highlighting the creativity of menus from around the world and the designers behind them.

Launched early August, 2011, most Art of the Menu posts are submitted by designers and feature multiple pictures along with a synopsis involving themes behind the menu and restaurant. The site calls attention to the creative minds behind menu design.

We took advantage of the site and contacted designers behind a few of our favorite menus with the goal of figuring out what, exactly, makes an ideal menu and furthermore, why design matters.

Before delving into details of design, it’s important to understand that a menu represents the restaurant’s brand vision.  As ROOF (at the Wit hotel in Chicago) menu designer John Turner of Boy Burns Barn puts it, for a menu to be successful it should “bridge the brand experience and the food experience.” Underscoring the role of the menu, Turner continues, “The design is the very first part of your meal. You sit down, you grab the menu and the process of your dining experience has begun.”

Sure, we all notice an exceptional menu when we see one, but we usually don’t spend much time considering what makes the menu brilliant. Why should we appreciate a good design? Would we think the same of a restaurant if we were handed a plain piece of paper with Times New Roman font? Bex Brands designer Becky Nelson helped put into perspective the importance of taking time to make a menu unique: “A logo at the top of the menu is lazy and makes the customer feel unimportant. Menus should take the time to talk to the customer while they take the time to decide which dishes to order.” Nelson’s menu design for Burlap, in Del Mar, CA, is featured on Art of the Menu.

UnderConsideration’s co-founder Armin Vit states, “The abundance of new, smaller restaurants who are innovating in their own categories do help coming up with fresh takes on menu designs, so there is a great selection out there to be catalogued.” Go ahead— devour the menu!

—Jennifer Fink