Art of the Menu: The Underrated Creativity of Menus From Around the World

updated Jun 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Restaurant menu design might not be a frequent topic of conversation among home cooks, but food lovers (and what home cook isn’t a food lover?), design buffs, and those who love to cook for a crowd have much to glean from the creative menu’s play on type, color, and presentational style. Art of the Menu, launched last August by graphic design enterprise Under Consideration, showcases great menus from around the world, and it’s a fascinating look at the way we, as eaters, are inspired and enticed by food.

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For Enden Af Gaden in Viborg, Denmark: “These are very pretty to look at with all their nicely considered type choices, layout, and playful typography.” (Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

What makes a great menu, you ask? As Art of the Menu writes:

…Menus are the meeting point of otherwise widely celebrated design practices. Above all, a good menu is about expertly executed typography: It has to be clear, legible (sometimes just under candle light), and representative of the cuisine. Menus are a light version of data visualization and information design: Helping the diner navigate between courses, options, and prices… But who are we kidding? A good menu should make you hungry. It should get your mouth watering. Hopefully it does it in a cool-looking way. And if it does, then you will probably find it here, on Art of the Menu.

While a written menu is not typical for a home cook (“Tonight’s Specials: Leftover Beef Stew with a Hastily Prepared Salad!”), eating is ultimately about engagement—with the food and with the hands that prepared it. It is therefore interesting to consider menus from the food maker’s perspective: what are we being made to notice and respond to? Why are we drawn to certain types of foods over others? What entices us to eat what we eat?

Hmm, this makes me think. Creative exercise, everyone! If your home kitchen and your cooking had a menu of its own, what would it look like? Would it have the bright, water-soaked colors of Maudie’s menu, or the minimalist, elemental look of Eleven Madison Park? How would your food artistically translate to the page?

For some cooks, taste may be the primary concern, while everything else—look, presentation, style— takes a backseat. But if menu design teaches us anything, it’s that our experience of food begins way before our first mouthful. It starts with an idea, the anticipation of something wonderful, made all the more exciting by the inspiration we know is to come.

(Images: as linked via Art of the Menu)