At the restaurant where I work, bottled beers aren't printed on the menu. There's a display of available bottles above the bar, but few patrons are seated where they can easily glance at what admittedly looks more like a shooting gallery than a menu addendum. That means it's up to the servers to rattle off a list of more than two dozen beers -– a list that starts sounding nonsensical about six beers in. (Having been on the receiving end of the alternative server strategy, which involves responding to the inevitable "what beers do you have?" question with the vaguely hostile challenge "what beer do you want?", I'm standing by the confusing method.)
Restaurant managers are constantly instructing servers to "verbalize" various specials, desserts and other items that didn't make it onto the menu, usually because the kitchen submitted its dish descriptions too late in the day or the back office printer wasn't working. But, as in the case of the unnoted beer, restaurants sometimes make the very deliberate decision to employ walking menus.
I first confronted the spoken menu as a diner at Longhi's, the famed Hawaiian eatery that made the schtick its signature. Bob Longhi, who opened the restaurant in 1977, explained his thinking in his memoir-cum-cookbook "Longhi's: Recipes and Reflections from Maui's Most Opinionated Restaurateur": "It gives (guests) an opportunity to relate to the people who are serving them ... My belief is that a written menu often causes a restaurant staff to treat their customers in a perfunctory manner. With a verbal menu the staff must be constantly aware of what is happening."
I imagine most promoters of the verbal menu philosophy feel much the same way. The problem is, in my experience, guests appreciate having their choices written down, so they can contemplate them before and after the server is standing over their table. When a menu's spoken, guests invariably conflate the item descriptions -- "wait, so it's the apple pie that has the chocolate sauce?" and block out intriguing but unfamiliar dishes. It's a no-win situation for servers, and one of the few they can't resolve through attentiveness and good cheer. If a customer wants a printed menu, nothing but a printed menu will do.
As it turns out, that's what patrons at Longhi's wanted. After nearly three decades, the restaurant retired its verbal menu.
"We stopped the verbal menu about five years ago," a staffer named Sheri e-mailed. "We do have some die-hard customers that really miss it, but overall the response of having printed menus is positive."
What do you think? Do verbal menus make for better service? Or would you rather just see the dessert tray?
|Yes, it's more personal.||1 (0.4%)|
|No, I'd rather read the menu myself.||222 (99.6%)|