Old menus written by experienced chefs were clear, concise and consistent. Free of spelling errors and with a logical flow, menus read well. Descriptions were mouth-watering and compelled guests order more food than they actually wanted.
In short, professionals who knew how menus should be written and presented them for maximum effect wrote them.
Today’s professionals write menus that are clear to them. No one seems to think of the guest in the restaurant who is supposed to understand what the chef has to offer.
In menu writing certain rules must be followed.
Today a prix fixe menu (at least in North America) consists of three courses. Anything with more courses is called a menu de degustastion.
The language of a menu must be consistent from the beginning to the end. Mixing two languages in one or several lines is wrong.
Fresh, fish du jour is redundant and Medallion of Quebec Foie Gras mixes two languages unnecessarily There is nothing wrong with Round of Quebec fattened goose liver, although a purely French version reads more elegantly (Medallion de Foie Gras de Quebec).
Fines herbes should be understood by all restaurant patrons as selected aromatic herbs, instead of trying to translate it as fine herbs.
North American menus are full of idiosyncratic styles and a mishmash of languages that obfuscate more than help patrons to order with confidence.
All menus must be written clearly enough for every diner to read and understand exactly what is being offered.
Osso buco may be clear to an Italian, but not to a monolingual Canadian, as is papardelle. How about Boeuf en Daube? Is there any diner out there who would know instantly what it is?
In such cases, the writer must briefly explain what is on offer i.e braised beef shank (for osso buco) and pasta with furred wild game meat sauce (for papardelle). For the daube you may want to consult a dictionary.
Also important is to indicate that applicable taxes and gratuities are not included in prices. Many Europeans are used to reading menus where all prices include all taxes and service charges. Imagine a European tourist’s shock presented with a bill that that is 15 percent more than what prices on the menu state and do not even include gratuity.
It is time for restaurant managers to think of patrons, who are under no obligation to understand another language or restaurant jargon when dining out.