I love going out to eat. Not only because I am a lousy cook who hates doing my own dishes, but because I genuinely look forward to the unique experience that each restaurant has to offer. Once the difficult decision of which restaurant to go to is decided, the rest is, in the words of Mike Rosado, “like going on a mini-vacation.” When going out to eat, I want more than to fill my belly with good food. I want the whole experience to be memorable.
Functional and Beautiful
Maybe it’s the foodie in me that craves experiencing new restaurants. Or maybe it’s the designer in me. But probably, it’s both. Working at an agency where we’ve carved out a niche as restaurant design experts, I can’t help but notice all of the details that elevate a restaurant-going experience from “grabbing a bite” to “going on a mini-vacation.” Stuff like an original flickering neon sign out front, the modern yet somehow comfortable dining chairs, a historic wooden bar covered in stories, the bowl of branded matchbooks on the hostess stand. I’d imagine most people walk right by most of these elements. But there’s something you simply can’t ignore when going out to eat: the menu.
The menu is arguably the most important designed element of a restaurant. A menu is looked at by everyone who walks through a restaurant’s doors. The point of all of this: a restaurant’s menu design directly contributes to the dining experience. Don’t settle for boring. Menus should be functional, beautiful, and evoke a story.
Menu Design in America
This brings me to the book of the hour. The book I knew I had to have, the second I saw its cover: Menu Design in America by Jim Heimann, Steven Heller, and John Mariani. Packed full of over 800 menu designs from the 1850s to 1980s, this book captures restaurant-going experiences like none I’ve ever seen. Pages of beautiful illustrations and typography, paired with unique layouts and die-cuts, the menus from the past do more than list what’s for dinner, they evoke an experience unlike the next.
Aside from triggering oooh’s and aaah’s at the turn of every page, this book does an amazing job showcasing how something as simple as a menu can be so much more.
Why limit yourself to an 8.5 x 11 menu printed straight out of a Word Doc, when you can create the experience of opening a die-cut cowboy or a hamburger, or a crab to reveal what’s for lunch?
Why have a boring one-sided menu, when you can create a memorable full-page illustration of the restaurant’s facade?
And this is just a fraction of what’s inside Menu Designs in America! This book is a great reminder that each restaurant has it’s own story to tell. We highly recommend picking up a copy for your library.