What’s On The Menu?

Among the many business-related side effects of life during the Coronavirus Pandemic have been the attempts by businesses to minimize humans coming into contact with items that others have touched. As effective or ineffective as this approach may have been in reducing the spread of the virus, it has turned into a lingering trend that many businesses believe is worth keeping around. In particular, you continue to see this most frequently in the lack of menus at casual dining and family-oriented restaurants.


Fast food joints long ago abandoned printed menus for internal signage because their rather limited offerings could be posted on the wall in a large enough text for most to easily read from the ordering counter. While many casual eateries, brewpubs and the like do post their offerings on electronic and printed signage, their volume of offerings frequently makes it very difficult to read from the seats or counters. And yet they continue to eschew printed menus.


In a further effort to minimize the spread of germs from the use of printed menus, some of these establishments began offering diners a chance to peruse their offerings online or via a mobile app. Whether the place required diners to get in line to place their orders before taking their seats, or to do so from their tables, the use of apps for ordering food proliferated. Sadly.


By no means am I a luddite. I use apps on my mobile phone for all kinds of things including the ordering of food, rides, performing fast research, ordering tickets to events and more. But if I’m going out to eat – breakfast, lunch or dinner – I much prefer to make my food choices from a printed menu. And I don’t believe I’m alone in this thinking. I believe it to be more relaxing and intuitive to make my choices when I can easily see all the options at once rather than scrolling around on my device trying to find something.


I’m sure there are those who do not object to this kind of food ordering experience, but I frankly find it a complete turn off. If I walk into a restaurant – regardless of the type of dining being offered – if they can’t give me a printed menu, I turn around and leave! And having to pre-order via their app doesn’t win me over either.


There are a number of reasons why I can’t in good conscience support such a business. Not everyone can easily read and scroll through a menu on their mobile devices, whether it is because of the size of the text and images in the app, the quality (or lack thereof) of the network connection to the app or restaurant’s website, because of network traffic or a poor signal at that location. Printed menus make it so much easier to make comparisons between dishes, see prices or a full listing without scrolling.


Not offering menus is also a point of laziness on the part of the business owner. Sure, they may save a few dollars over time by avoiding the expenses of designing and printing, but if diners are staying away because they would rather have a menu in their hands rather than their cell phones, that cost of printing is a legitimate expense worth making. Indeed, for establishments that regularly change their menus, or those that do not laminate them, keeping menus clean, readable and presentable is an added cost and annoyance to doing business. But I question if doing so is a “make it or break it” proposition. For those places that do laminate their menus, it takes a little extra effort to keep them clean, but it is worth the extra effort to mitigate the spread of germs, and keep their menus presentable to the public.


I also question the legality of not offering diners a printed menu. Is not offering a printed menu option a violation of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations? This question is being put to the test in the courts as law suits claiming that not providing printed menus poses a hinderance to those who are visually impaired and therefore does not provide equal access to all in the dining experience.


The shared experience of perusing menus with fellow diners, discussing options, tastes and interests is part of the fun of dining out. Take away the menus and everyone is once again staring at their mobile devices. Without printed menus, it becomes harder to ask your wait person questions about the menu because they may not know the menu by heart or may not be able to see what you’re looking at on your phone.


Yes, since the pandemic, restaurants have taken a huge hit. Many places have closed and many will not return. Yet new eateries are opening up all the time, concerned with keeping staff safe, healthy, free of risks, motivated, reducing turnover and keeping costs manageable. But if the costs of providing printed menus is so prohibitive, maybe opening up a restaurant was not their best decision. However, making choices easier to access to all diners is the best decision a restaurant operator can make. What’s on the menu? The customers’ eyes!


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