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Do Menu descriptions make you like/dislike a place?

I sometimes find that nicer restaurants get too "flashy" trying to show off their dishes in menu descriptions. Do you? When at a new place, it can get a bit distracting when trying to enjoy the energy of the table - especially if everyone takes a long pause to decipher the offerings. Instead of the main items "popping" off the page, it might take a few readings to decipher what's being offered. Know what I mean? For example, a dish might be described as:

"Flame kissed, chile infused, panko encrusted, hand caught Gulf shrimp served with and Idaho horseradish/heirloom tomato compost and meyer lemon gratin."

It might sound good on its own, but with 30 other similarly described dishes on the same menu, it makes one shift into college level test-taking mode. How about:

"Grilled Shrimp - Plump gulf shrimp kicked up with our own special blend of spicy seasonings and fiesty dipping sauce."

I'd love to see some links to menus that are either too complicated or beautifully simple in describing the offerings.

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  1. When restaurants write "kicked up with our own special blend of spicy seasonings and fiesty dipping sauce" on their menu, I run like hell.

    1 Reply
    1. yes, this really gets up my nose. More often than not, the restaurant is trying too hard and the food isnt that great.

      Too many decriptions are just plain tacky IMO..

      1. I don't mind elaborate descriptions—in fact I sometimes get a kick out of them, or find them useful w/r/t backstory (i.e. glimpses into techniques used or ingredients sourced)—with two qualifications:

        1) I HATE cutesy quotation marks whereby high-end chefs appropriate blue-collarisms, e.g. Per Se's "coffee and doughnuts."

        2) I hate misspellings. That goes for any menu. I take them, fairly or not, as a sign of either ignorance or carelessness.

        2 Replies
        1. re: tatamagouche


          Jfood could never pinpoint it but you hit the nail on the head and Thank You. His brain always had a little "skip a beat flutter" while reading certain descriptions and your cutesy comment solves the mystery. The Per Se "coffee and donuts" (not that jfood has ever eaten there) comment brought it home. It is almost like saying, "in your face" look at what that should really be like.

          As far as misspellings, as long as it's a typo versus a gotcha, jfood smiles and moves on. Heck look at the misspellings on CH. If you tell someone it is crab please do not bring compressed pollock in the shape of a crab.

          1. re: tatamagouche

            Misspellings will turn me off quicker than anything else. If you can afford to open your own restaurant, you can afford to have someone proofread your menu. Of course, I'm a little more understanding of spelling and grammatical mistakes if the owners are foreign. In any other situation though, incorrect spelling just reflects a carelessness when it comes to detail. And the last thing I want is to eat at a restaurant where attention to detail isn't a priority.

            Another thing that gets under my skin are menus (particularly for stuff like Asian cuisine) that offer no descriptions of their dishes. If it's something I've never heard of before, how am I supposed to know if I want to try it? And I refuse to be the person who monopolizes the server's time asking about every dish on the menu.

          2. For the hand-caught shrimp I'd prefer a photo of someone out in the ocean plucking each little shrimp out of the water with his bare hands.

            :D Personally I like a menu description to list as many ingredients as possible, but that's just me.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Firegoat

              Chipotle used to have a blurb near the menu about vegetarian fed pigs. I know they meant that the diet was vegetarian but I wanted to see a photo of vegetarians feeding pigs so that the carnivores can have their carntas tacos!!!

            2. jfood likes the descriptive nature of the menus since he gets a better feel for what might be served. How many times has jfood thought that he would order a dish and then get to the last cluase and it ruins his vision. He would rather it happen at the pre-order stage than the post-receive stage.

              1. For me, WHERE I am when reading the menu makes a huge difference. When actually in a restaurant with a menu designed to hopefully induce drooling, I skip the description and scan... " Let's see... tilapia... prime rib... lamb chops..." But when I'm home I read the full wheelbarrowful of manure. These menus often end up with me praying that they were NOT written by the chef because there are so many contradictory culinary terms that whoever did the writing doesn't have a clue about classic cooking. But they're very good for a laugh!

                And no. When the menu is that mangled, I will laugh at home, but I won't go there for a glass of water! Besides, it would probably cost six bucks. "Luscious crystal clear water from our private 8 million year old aquafer brought to the surface exclusively for our diners." Hey! Think I could get a job? '-)

                1. Definitely, menu descriptions matter to me.
                  I also have the eagle eye for spelling errors - if the restaurant is American, it is just sloppy, which seems to reflect upon the place itself.
                  There was once a restaurant near my house, and I could never pinpoint why exactly I did not feel drawn to go there, even though the food I did have there was just fine. I finally realized that I hated reading the clumsy font they had chosen for the menu.

                  So easily manipulated, aren't we?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: pigtails

                    I agree - the menu is vitally important to the well-being of a resaurant. How in the world can someone invest big bucks in outfitting a kitchen, designing a dining room, hiring great staff to cook and serve the food... and then cut corners with the menu? I hate seeing typos. Hate it. Hire a proofreader who speaks proper English if you're not sure of your own language skills. And then present it so it's easy to read. If I have trouble reading the menu and find a lot of errors I'll go elsewhere.

                    For the record, I love a full disclosure of the ingredients in each dish. I don't need the flowery language, and I certainly don't need to know from which farm each vegetable was purchased, but I do like to know what's in the dish. I dislike garlic unless it's a very small amount, and can generally forget about ordering dishes if they do a good thorough description. where menus are concerned, to me "more is more." :-)

                  2. The people who write those descriptions should be directing their creative efforts to posting on chowhound and making us all hungry instead of cluttering up menus. KISS, (keep it simple stupid) applies in lots of areas of life.

                    1. I would like to know if there's horseradish and chile, since I love those flavors. "Our own special blend" is way too vague and chainy for me. Makes me think someone sprinkled old bay on it and called it special.

                      And, um...please don't put compost on my plate!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mojoeater

                        Here in Portland a good pizza place has a kind called "compost"! It means whatever fresh local vegies they could find that day. It's my favorite.

                        There a Viet place that has florid detailed descriptions of every dish save one: the lone vegetarian dish is called "vegetarian dish"!

                      2. Descriptions don't matter to me so much; however, font does.

                        I hate calligraphy on a menu. Use a simple font like Courier or Sans Serif.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          I'm a California FB kinda guy.
                          In my experience, people don't really read through menus, so the descriptors need to be succinct. However, capers, as an ingredient, need to be listed.

                        2. haha omg, yea sometimes the description is so long I get confused and wondering what it is lol...

                          1. here's a new MAJOR dislike for jfood.

                            Please mention nuts in a description. Happened last night and jfood had a horrible time. It immediatelyplaces a restaurant on the DNR list.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jfood

                              I have a few food intolerances/allergies, so I really try to decipher the descriptions of the dishes, to avoid disappointments ; I also have to coach my husband, who seems to only read a few key words on a menu and order from that, then he's surprised when he sees his meal and it's not quite what he expected; I hate to be the nagging wife who says, "hum dear, you're not going to like that" but I have to do it.

                              I prefer a disclosure of the main ingredients that stand out in flavor, such as truffle oil, cumin, to name my least 2 favorites. But I don't need to know that the meat came from the inside of the knee of the animal, that's TMI for me.

                              I've learned to read between the lines of the very flowery and pretentious food descriptions and summarize them myself. Although I do admire well written descriptives that say everything in 3 lines or less, it's an art.

                              Some restaurants train the waitstaff to give a long descriptive of the specials, I've always wondered how they can memorize that.

                            2. As long as it is not gimmicky I prefer as much information as possible. I don't like playing 20 questions with ill-trained servers.