Is Your Menu Actually Ordering You?

"May We Suggest" by Associate Professor Alison Pearlman (Department of Art), available on Oct. 16, 2018
"May We Suggest" by Associate Professor Alison Pearlman (Department of Art), available on Oct. 16, 2018

Professor Alison Pearlman visited more than 60 restaurants in the Greater Los Angeles area for May We Suggest: Restaurant Menus and the Art of Persuasion, a delectable exploration of how the design of a physical menu influence our dining experiences, choices and, ultimately, our purchasing choices.

Pearlman, an art historian and gastronome, paired her background with interviews with industry professionals and studies in disciplines ranging from experience design to behavioral economics to explore an often-read but rarely analyzed narrative: the menu.

She took her research to national and regional chains like Taco Bell and In-N-Out, and to fine dining establishments such as the Michelin-rated seafood restaurant Providence and Ink, the West Hollywood modernist eatery founded by Top Chef alum Michael Voltaggio. For two years, she collected and photographed menus, documented her dining experience at 60 restaurant brands through 77 visits. What emerged was on observatio of "restaurant theater." The menu was the show's program, striving always to reinforce the selling powers of a restaurant, and credibility relied on whether what is delivered to your table lives up to the menu's advertised narrative.

Pearlman also dives into the world of menu hacks and secret menus, their appeal and profitability to restaurateurs.

"I consider menus not just as printed pages or signboards but also as displays of real food, spoken menus, and digital menus," Pearlman said. "These are all menus because they all communicate a restaurant’s offerings and choices.

"At the same time, I also think about how other features of a restaurant augment the selling power of menus," she continued, "Especially servers who point to menu items and make recommendations and aspects of restaurant décor, like a wall of wine bottles and a view of a rotisserie. These are menu wingmen. A point I make in the book is that, in the art of persuasion, menus rarely work alone. They partner with other players in the restaurant theater. That’s why I wanted to observe menus in their restaurants. I had to see how they functioned in the merchandising context."

May We Suggest: Restaurant Menus and the Art of Persuasion
Arriving Oct. 16, 2018 | MIDWAY BOOKS | 978-1-57284-260-1 | $16