Why restaurants should be paying greater attention to their menus

By Emma Eversham contact

- Last updated on GMT

Nicholas Lander says a restaurant's menu is arguably the most important piece of paper in a restaurant
Nicholas Lander says a restaurant's menu is arguably the most important piece of paper in a restaurant

Related tags: Menu, Restaurant

Restaurateur-turned restaurant correspondent Nicholas Lander is hoping to inspire restaurants to create better menus in his latest book, which studies the history, design and evolution of ‘the most important piece of paper in the restaurant industry’.

On The Menu (3 November) is the second book from The Art of the Restaurateur author and is set to re-focus restaurants’ attention on the art of menu writing.

Lander, who ran London restaurant L’Escargot in the 1980s before becoming restaurant correspondent for the Financial Times, told BigHospitality he also wanted to ‘stress the importance of good design’ for menus and highlight those that had impressed him over the years.

“The menu is the most important piece of paper in the restaurant industry and yet nobody had bothered to write about it,” he said. “I have been collecting menus for the last 30 years and have boxes of them in my office, so thought ‘why not put them to good use?’”

Lander launched a crowdfunding campaign for the book with publisher Unbound, raising the funds he needed to write and publish it in just 90 days. Fifteen months later the book was ready for print.

As well as 80 examples of impressive menus, On The Menu sees Lander examine the principles of menu design and layout and features interviews with 12 top chefs from around the world, including Heston Blumenthal, Rene Redzepi and Peter Gilmore.  

Menu dos and don’ts

As well as inspiration, Lander offered his top tips to restaurateurs and chefs looking to create a winning menu.

One area he believes hasn’t helped the restaurant menu is letting chefs create it. Rather, he says, the menu should be a collaboration between the chef and restaurateur.

“The best menus are always inspired by chefs and written by restaurateurs who appreciate what it’s like to sit down and be given a piece of paper when sat down at the table,” he said. “That sensitivity is really important.”

Plastic-covered, torn and smudged menus are a no-no and a simple photocopied white paper menu with black type is also likely to make Lander view a restaurant less favourably.

“A lot of the great design of menus has vanished and that’s partly because restaurateurs have got their own printing in-house, so sometimes it can appear quite tired,” he said. “Colour is an incredibly important element to menus. Just having a white piece of paper with black writing on it is not very good for sales because it doesn’t make anything look very interesting.”

While Lander bemoans a lack of colour on modern menus, he is a fan of simple, daily menus. 

“The trend of producing a daily menu with just the date on it and a short list of what has inspired the chef either the day before or that morning is absolutely fantastic,” he said. “There’s nothing better than being told this is what we’ve got and how we’re cooking it.” 

Lander also believes restaurants which can incorporate a drinks menu with the food menu are onto a winner, citing a menu from Parisian restaurant Taillevant, which does this, as his ultimate favourite. 

He said: "There is a chapter in the book which looks at the wine list and how it amalgamates with the menu. My favourite from Taillevant in Paris is four pages - page one is the main course, two and three are the wine list and the last page is desserts. It was a hugely democratic piece of paper and I like that." 

Nicholas Lander's top tips for menu creation: 

  • Publish it daily to show attention to the seasons and fresh ingredients.
  • Use colour to pique interest. Black and white is uninspiring, says Lander. 
  • Pay attention to fonts. Use different sizes for headings and different sections and think about where people are reading it. You may need to increase the font size if the space is dark. 

On The Menu​ by Nicholas Lander (UNBOUND, £30) is out today. 

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