Menus and web content must be skim-readable

Illegible fancy menu.
Basic rule for any communication in writing: it must be legible.
Basic rule for a menu: it must be skim-readable—just like web content. Otherwise it's not accessible.

The owners of Manon, a new French-Italian restaurant (yes, you read that right) in Newtown, Wellington, went mad with their marketing campaign and foolishly popped a flyer in my letter box.

What were they thinking? This crazy calligraphy had me peering in puzzlement at the first three items under E (for entree, I guess). At that point I stopped peering.

Sure, I could read it: Gazpacho w Avocado Quenelle & toasted buttered brioche: see? But by the time I'd deciphered the third entree I couldn't remember the first one. All my brain energy had been used up by deciphering, not reading.

People read menus in a particular way, and this particular menu thwarted me before I began.

Normally, the process of choosing dishes at a restaurant is exquisite self torture and an intrinsic delight of eating out. I don't know about you, but I tend to skim-read a menu, browse a bit, re-examine some items in detail, make tentative choices, check what my friends have chosen, skim-read again to make sure I've not missed anything. Only at that point am I ready to order. (Unless at Kiallis, where I eat haloumi salad. Or Nikau: kedgeree.)

Then the dish comes and the excitement is partly because of this mighty existential question: Did I choose well, or did I make a mistake?

It's all good... as long as the physical act of skim-reading is easy, relaxed, automatic.

With the Manon menu, patrons will spend far too much time and effort actually reading. They'll have to read every word. They can't skim-read.

I bet an awful lot of people settle for the first main on the list. Chef, get cracking on tonight's first truckload of that Grilled Crispy CanterValley Half Duck w Lemon Braised Chickory & Drambuie ginger sauce. All that struggling makes the punters hungry.


Mar 27, 2010 • Posted by Louise C

Is it important that the strawberries come from Wanganui? I don’t think that would sway me to choose them off the menu if I got that far…
Lucy says she can’t decide if it makes it all OK that they are not new; I suggest the chef @ Manon can’t decide either, and promoting that fact via this menu may be detrimental to their business. Haven’t they seen Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares?

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Mar 28, 2010 • Posted by Rachel

I agree: I’d rather have my strawberries locally grown. And I confess I didn’t read that far.

Mar 26, 2010 • Posted by Lucy Smith

Manon isn’t new! It was there when I lived in Newtown in 2006-7. I never went, but I walked past it every day.

I can’t decide if that makes it all okay – since presumably Manon has loyal devotees who will take the time to read a menu written in calligraphy, or go there regardless – or if they should really know better by now.

Mar 27, 2010 • Posted by rachel

Thanks Lucy: so it’s just a new marketing drive. If the restaurant has survived several years, I guess their customers have perfect vision or major loyalty.

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