When I wrote about a small tavern in Oak Cliff, I praised small menus, saying that kitchens tasked with too many dishes often end up with watered-down plates fraught with errors, or that the menus themselves are just a pain in the ass to read through. My last few meals, though, have me griping about a different kind of menu size: literally the physical dimensions of the menu itself.
When a customer sits at a small two-top, flanked on both sides by silverware, wine and water glasses, a bread plate, a napkin and sometimes a charger, there isn't a whole lot of room to set down a menu. When the menu is a size of the of a daily newspaper and bound in hard leather, and then your cocktail comes, and then a bread basket comes, it can be downright cumbersome.
Why do menus need to be so big?
Let's take bifocals, flashlights and the vision-impaired people who need them out of the picture first. If menus were big to make them more readable, the fonts would be as huge as the numbers on your grandmother's telephone. As it stands, most menus use very small text and the pages are often filled with tons of white space.
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Maybe large menus make diners feel special? There might be something about holding a grand, gold-embossed tome filled with appetizers and mains (please check volume two for wine, and volume three for dessert) that makes you feel like the whole world is at your fingertips. Your dining companions might feel a little neglected, though, when all they can see is the top of your head while you try to decide between the porterhouse and the filet.
Is it theft? It could be. My mother's surely blushing but I'll gladly out her for menu thievery of the highest order. She's corrected the kleptomenua but there was a time when she thought menus were a significantly better souvenir from her travels than those silly silver spoons. (You'll admit she had a point.) Perhaps menus are sized to be at least two inches larger in every direction than the dimensions of a lady's largest purse. And I'll bet you they still disappear with surprising frequency.
Imagine a world instead where menus are no larger than a paperback book. I often like to hang onto a menu while I dine, so I can reference dishes while I'm eating, or more often, order subsequent dishes as each is brought to the table. (I hate to be rushed by an antsy kitchen.) A menu that could sit at my table without imposing like an unwanted guest would make this practice a breeze.
If anything, we should do it for the trees.