Topline Trends Tuesday: Intentionally vague menus


Like all things in the food biz, menus go through various phases. While the prevailing trend among many of today’s chefs is to give the diner as much info about the food as possible by highlighting regional and artisan ingredients and cutting-edge cooking techniques such as sous vide on menus, there’s a backlash against this wordy style. In fact, a few restauranteurs are intentionally writing menus that are so cryptic that diners need a server to help them decode their choices.

Vdara Restaurant in Toronto is a good example of this type of restaurant. The folks at bizbash describe the Vdara menu like this:

Their intentionally vague menu includes dishes like “wandering free bird caught by sticky steamed buns” and “no noodling celery root lasagne wild with shrooms.”

Vdara’s spokesperson Gianfranco Pellicori goes on to tell Bizbash that “We want people to ask our floor staff questions. We want to make sure there is interaction with our clients.”

Personally, I go out to a restaurant to visit with my friends; having a pleasant, well-informed server with personality can enhance the evening but I’m not counting on spending a lot of time discussing the menu or becoming bff’s with the wait staff. Socializing with my guests is my priority.

What do you guys think? Am I an out-of-date stick in the mud or do you agree that a menu that is purposely puzzling is a silly idea?

[7:47 a.m. Tuesday – post ETA: I just checked the Vdara menu online and it seems to have been rewritten – evidence that people wanted a clearer understanding? I think so!]

12 Responses to Topline Trends Tuesday: Intentionally vague menus

  1. Kathryn says:

    I absolutely hate it when I cannot figure out what exactly the food is from the menu. I like a well-informed and friendly wait-person, but I do not like having to rely on the staff having the time to explain the menu adequately. It is a big no for me.

  2. Barb says:

    I would also like to understand the menu on my own. Reading it over to make your selection takes all the time I want to spend on it. The other people at the table deserve equal time, too.

  3. Rosa says:

    I share the same opinion with you!



  4. I like a balance, too. I’ve been to restaurants where it took the server five minutes to list the specials. God forbid you miss a detail and ask him/her to repeat an item.

    While I want enough information to know what I’m getting, my friends are the main focus. Sure I want the wait staff to know what’s being served, but an overly-friendly server can actually ruin an intimate dinner.

  5. Rebecca says:

    This sounds like a well-meaning restaurateur who’s placed his emphasis on the wrong thing. I can’t imagine creating a menu to force the customer to rely on the server. You wouldn’t intentionally try to make a guest in your home feel uncomfortable or annoyed. That’s starting the whole dining experience at a deficit.

  6. Elra says:

    Absolutely right Dana! I go to a restaurant mostly for meeting with friends and have a good time. I had an irritating experience last week, where the waitress kept on coming back to us every 5 minutes just to say ” everything okay, mam?” That kind of interruption it really get into my nerve.

  7. cheryl says:

    I just clicked over to the menu, and even with your caveat that they’ve changed it, I still find it overly cutesy and difficult to understand.

    I’ve got no problem with a little creativity, but once the words become the focus rather than the food itself (and this from a writer), you’re gonna lose me. Clarity trumps all.

  8. Diva says:

    Sounds like we all in agreement on this. I clicked over and agree with Cheryl that its too cutesy for me. Its a good thing that they’ve made some changes … because the descriptions you’ve listed were mind boggling to say the least. Frankly, both versions seem silly to me.

  9. Heather says:

    I too am in agreement. I want info on my menus. As I have a nut allergy, and am lactose intollerant. I want to know exactly what is in the food that I am thinking about ordering. A few people that I know have been surprised by allergins in their salads…nuts in one and seafood in another. While I don’t think that potential allergins should not be served, I appreciate the restaurants who choose to make it obvious that they are using a commonly known severe allergin.

  10. […] • Wordy menus are not always the result of culinary confusion. They could be a ploy to stimulate customer-server discourse. [Dana McCauley] […]

  11. giz says:

    There seems to be a fine line between good service and intrusion. Now with the economy frightening many restauranteurs, their “getting” that good service makes a difference but many don’t know where the boundaries really are. I want to relax at a restaurant with people I’m comfortable with and not have to think about alot of interaction with someone I don’t know nor will I likely ever see again. And the whole interaction just feels way too fake for me. You care about my experience because it’s your job – you don’t give a damn about me so do your job – we understand one another – now go away.

  12. […] bookmarks tagged vague Topline Trends Tuesday: Intentionally vague menus … saved by 9 others     myriiiaam bookmarked on 02/21/09 | […]

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