Friday, February 10, 2006

It's Time to Shed Light on Those Hard-to-read Menus

"How About Providing Magnifying Glasses Along with the Menu As a Matter of Routine?"

Janice Okun

The Buffalo News

It may be better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

When it comes to restaurant dining at least, the old Chinese proverb may be true.

Tell me, all you aging folk out there -- and I am talking to everybody -- are you having trouble reading menus at dinnertime?

Do you worry that you might order the filet mignon instead of the poached salmon au buerre blanc because the lighting is so dim?

You are not alone -- not if my mail is any indication. I hear from people of all ages who have trouble deciphering the bill of fare. A whole cottage industry has grown up because of this fact. One that supplies magnifiers -- some as thin as a credit card.

Others, like the klutzy thing that always ends up at the bottom of my purse, are approximately the size of a rolling pin but at least they light up. Small flashlights without magnifiers are also available. There are always matches.

Miners' helmets may be next.

Now I am the last one in the world who wants to eat dinner under surgical lighting -- mascara does tend to go south by the end of the day.

And certainly overly bright dining rooms do seem to destroy romance and relaxation. Candles fill a definte need.

But it's a dark world out there and getting darker everytime a new dining place opens its doors it seems.

Something must be done.

Well, what exactly? Here's one simple idea: Make the type larger on the menu and "air" it out a little. Spacing makes type easier to read.

Use darker ink for contrast and check that the ink in the printer has been replenished so that patrons can actually see the bill when it comes.

Also -- if there is a list of evening specials, could you make sure that the person who writes it out is not the same one that got D-minus in penmanship all the way through grade school? And skip elaborate type fonts, too, while you're at it.

Loops and whirls can get in the way.

Other solutions involve a small investment on the part of the restaurant: How about providing magnifying glasses along with the menu as a matter of routine? We're not talking designer here. Drugstore glasses will do nicely as long as they are not decorated with rhinestones.

Guys really look silly when their specs light up.

In Florida, providing cheapie reader glasses is common practice in restaurants. (There will now be slight pause for everyone to crack the usual "God's waiting room" jokes and we will move on.)

Because just making type larger won't do it all, we have to shed some light on the situation.

How about discreet flashlights for everyone who is not actually sitting in a booster seat? They could come tied to the menu with sexy tassels so they won't walk away.

Why should a restaurant bother will all this? It's a competitive world out there and anything that makes a customer happy should make the owner happy. People want to know the boss cares.

Plus there's another point: Improved legibility might even increase check averages. Think about it.

You can't order an expensive appetizer or dessert if you don't know it exists.


  1. Not only do I like being able to see and read the menu, but I also want lighting light enough to see my food when it is placed before me.

  2. This trend of dimly-lit restaurants is getting out of hand, and it's ironic considering how friggin' bright it is in every other kind of retail store these days.