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Why don't more menus have pictures of their food?

Is it because it might be construed as tacky, and low-brow (see Denny's, Chli's, etc.)?

Is it because it would be too expensive, esp. if you change your dishes regularly?

Is it because it is considered unnecessary?

Sometimes I wonder if pictures on a menu would defuse alot of diner issues before they even start.

You would arguably know how much (or little) food your app or entree was, thereby avoiding rants of "I paid $X for this beef carpaccio and all I got was two damn small slices of beef!"

You would know the preparation of the dish, e.g. whether that burger you ordered was a "knife-and-fork" job, or something easily suited for hand-and-mouth delivery.

Curious as to your thoughts.

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  1. It seems rather expensive to take nice photos of every dish and print them onto menus. The item description is a more optimal place give information as it is cheap and acts like a teaser, giving info without ruining the surprise that a photo would. If customers are curious as to how the burger will most likely be eaten, they should ask their server.

    I don't really understand how a photo would clarify anything, you'd have like a 2" pic and have to try and make out all the details.

    1. The thing about language vs. visuals is that with language people interpret and form judgements based on different interpretations, but with photos everyone basically sees the same thing. Also, the process of interpreting language is somehow more vivid than having it already done for you with a photo.

      Very good question, ipse, but quite hard to formulate an answer.

        1. I forgot to note that in Japan, many restaurants have photos of the food or even plastic displays of it. This may hold true to other countries as well, I'm not sure.

          3 Replies
          1. re: AndrewK512

            Many Japanese restaurants in the U.S. have plastic displays of their food as well.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              Hey, those plastic displays of food are a work of art and usually get my business if it looks good enough to eat.

              1. re: monku

                But not if they're so old that they're faded --- and dusty!

          2. "Is it because it might be construed as tacky, and low-brow "

            Yes.

            17 Replies
            1. re: Harters

              Many fast food restaurants use photos for their illiterate or barely literate customers who can point to "A #4" instead of having to read the menu description (which is impossible)

              1. re: Sherri

                Sherri, the main reason there are those photo menus at fast food restaurants has more to do with hearing and speech impaired customers than "barely literate" ones. Someone with aphasia, severe dysfluency, or who does not speak can use these to order for themselves instead of relying on another person.

                1. re: elfcook

                  Is that the origin of those pictures at McDonald et. al.?

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    back when I worked in speech therapy, we had many clients who liked being able to go to any restaurant where they had a picture menu, for ease of communication. McD's has (or had - it has been a while) picture menus behind the counter, so people could point to their choices. It is harder with the pics up above the counter, but still helpful (person could point & hold up 2 fingers for a #2 meal, for instance).

                    1. re: elfcook

                      Wouldn't writing it on a piece of paper be equally effective, if not easier in some respects?

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        depends on if your writing ability is also affected (say by a stroke). Really, there is no one way to cover all the possible issues, but pictures fulfill a wide range of needs. Plus, they can make pretty pictures for advertising, even if the actual food doesn't really resemble it :)

                      2. re: elfcook

                        Elfcook,

                        Cool. I know hearing and speech impaired customers can point to those pictures, but I didn't know this is the origin. I thought it is more like a beneficial self-effect.

                    2. re: elfcook

                      I'm only reporting what a FF spokesperson told a meeting of Literacy Volunteer tutors. The photos were initially developed for their illiterate clientele. I remember being quite moved by their concern; later I was disgusted at the mercenary motives.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          They (FF) can sell more burgers when customers can simply point to photo #4 instead of being intimidated by written words they (customer) cannot read.

                          1. re: Sherri

                            While I am as eager as any one to trash the abuses of corporate America in some of its more unseemly tactics in pursuing profits, the flip side of the pictures is the concept of access. Without photos, they are effectively denying access to those who cannot read, who do not know the 'home' language of the restaurant, or who cannot communicate in words their order.
                            If I had to guess, I'd say that if the sole outcome of the photos was to increase sales to the illiterate, then they would not be worth the money (at least not in highly literate countries). I think pictures likely increase profits more b/c they induce people, literate and not, to order more.

                    3. re: Sherri

                      "Many fast food restaurants use photos for their illiterate or barely literate customers who can point to "A #4" instead of having to read the menu description (which is impossible)"

                      ___________________________________________________

                      Sherri,

                      Are you sure this is right? I've always understood that the pictures on those fast food boards were to make the food more enticing for young children.

                      Given that fast food restaurants run so many incessant commercials (in print and TV), I would imagine even an illiterate person would be able to order without the need for additional pics when standing in front of the clerk taking their order.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        As I replied originally, "I'm only reporting what a FF spokesperson told a meeting of Literacy Volunteer tutors. The photos were initially developed for their illiterate clientele. I remember being quite moved by their concern; later I was disgusted at the mercenary motives."

                        I can only answer that this is what we were told at a large regional meeting. He went on to explain that it was easier for those who did not wish to advertize their illiteracy to simply point while saying "I'll have #6" or whatever.

                        Do the photos serve double or triple duty? Of course they do. For non-english speakers it is nice to be able to hold up three fingers indicating your meal choice instead of being forced to stumble through in an unfamiliar language. Earlier someone pointed out that for the speech-impaired it is also helpful. Are these photographs attractive to children? Of course they are.

                        But to return to my original statement, the Literacy Volunteer tutors were told that the photographs were developed for the illiterate customers, a portion of the buying public they were not being served as well as they could be.
                        I was naive enough to think the FF industry was benevolent in their care of this underserved group.

                        Nah. Everyone's money is the same color. They were simply missing a market niche and changed that with photographs.

                        1. re: Sherri

                          I'm not sure why this strikes you as mercenary. Should fast food places deliberately try to exclude non-readers? What purpose would that serve? Who would benefit from such a practice? The non-readers aren't harmed by having access to pictures in addition to words, so what's the problem?

                          To me, it's analagous to installing a ramp so that wheelchair-bound customers have access. Is that also mercenary?

                          1. re: small h

                            I had stars in my eye that the FF giants were operating out of the goodness of their hearts, doing something nice for people who needed help, etc but became disillusioned when the decision was reduced to dollars and cents instead of altruism. Blame me; there's no logical reason for my feelings.

                            1. re: Sherri

                              I understand. But note that even though the chains weren't practicing loving kindness (and really, why should they? businesses aren't charities), people still benefit. I'd rather have a bad intent and a good result than the opposite.

                    4. re: Harters

                      Yes and yes. A Chinese place sent us a menu with pictures on it. They were so bad we spent ten minutes making fun of it, but it inspired us to send an employee across the street for some takeout from another Chinese place.