February 5, 2019 |
My life in cosmopolitan London, a gastronomic city renowned for its culinary arts, served the aspiring cook in me well. With London’s unique dining scene, accessibility to diverse cuisines and a great wealth of ingredients, my cooking has evolved over the years. Unexpectedly, another pleasurable hobby has emerged from writing down those recipes – food writing and creating menus, surprising myself with a rich vocabulary for describing flavours, textures and aromas. Then, a persistent urge arose to pursue a career in this path, which drove me to obtain a diploma in food journalism. Afterwards, I collaborated successfully with branding companies on several F&B projects including menu revamps and copywriting, as well as content writing for social media and websites. I find the menu developing and copywriting task is by far the most challenging, so here is some light I can shed on this part of the F&B business.
I believe that reading through a good menu is equally exciting as savouring the chef’s signature dishes in a new venue. However, we often find the menu disappointing and not in line with the efforts spent in either the interiors or executing those dishes. It could either be the design, lack of accuracy in food description or linguistic mistakes, all of which could really compromise a menu. With a good menu in hand, diners can visualise their food choices enabling them to get an idea of what to expect – leading to fewer dishes returned to the kitchen, resulting in happy customers and staff. Consequently, it can affect the entire flow of service and the general mood, all down to investing in a good menu that suits and complements the restaurant atmosphere.
So, let me share with you my views on some aspects of this process:
STYLE AND DESIGN
We are living in a minimalist period, which is the phrase nowadays for effortless elegance and simplicity. We can see it reflected in many ways in our lives, for example, with attire, décor, and even food. While I fondly embrace this style, sometimes it’s taken a bit too far and out of context. Not every dining venue has to adopt minimalism; for example, a warm cosy café, which is busy at morning times throughout lunch service with moms and college students, has no reason to follow this trend. On the other hand, a fine dining restaurant or a more formal one could go for the more refined minimalist style, with monochrome cold colours and palatial simple furniture. Another thing that stands out in menus is the quality of its material. For example, an opulent interior has to be complemented by a posh menu made from leather or suede with the finest paper available.
Even in casual café-restaurants where rustic materials such as cardboard, wood boards and fabrics are more fitting, they should also be of premium quality. The standard of materials used says a lot about the type of entrepreneur you are, and it also somehow inspires confidence in the food about to be served at the table. Moreover, it prolongs the life span of menus, reducing its tear and wear dramatically, and this of course is reflected in restaurants’ yearly expenses.
CONTENT AND LANGUAGE
The tone of the language used should also differ from one venue to another, depending on the style and clientele. Naturally, in the café restaurant example which I referred to previously, the tone should be warm and casual with more vivid descriptions, like a friendly chat. You may find words like smothered, mouth-watering, oozing, and so on. While in the formal restaurant, words should be less dramatic, precise, without taking away the essence of the dish, and highlighting the quality of ingredients and their source. This is also because such venues are usually chosen by corporate clients to host business lunches and dinners for their guests, who certainly wouldn’t be happy to spend much time on selecting their food.
Usually, restaurant owners are keen to implement changes and take on board feedback about their business. However, this might not always be the case with the head chef. I find that most chefs in the Middle East are quite talented and experienced, who don’t necessarily have educational backgrounds from culinary schools and institutions. But in some cases, they can be resistant to any change, and not willing to expand their knowledge and learn about new food trends. So, it is no easy task when I try to subtly say in our first tasting session, “Well I like your demonstrated dishes, but they are not suitable for the new menu.” You can imagine how provocative this can be! At this point they usually invite me into their professional kitchens asking me to cook my suggested alternatives, which can be a bit intimidating; however I roll up my sleeves and get on with it. Eventually, I manage to gain their trust and we collaborate successfully. They also show interest in my work and diploma, expressing their fascination of how things have evolved in the restaurant business.
A happy ending!