Sunday I was privileged to get to have brunch with my client Heidi Miller (no relation, really). She suggested we meet a small cafe she'd heard of on N. Clark St. in Chicago, a place called "Orange". As you'll see from the link, it's a good place, and I won't go into much gustatorial review here except to say the Chai Tea French Toast is just as good as it sounds.
No, I want to talk about the menu. At first glance, it's the most cheap thing you can imagine--a few xeroxed pages stapled together, wrinkled with use (mine even had a coffee circle on the front), no photos, not even much of a layout, per se. It was the "average Joe" of menus, and about as far from the glitz and laminate of a place like Red Robin as you can get.
But it's a work of art. Not in terms of image, but in terms of communication. It starts in the very first line:
"Okay, if you want to 'build your own' omelet, go to a place with either 'Golden' or 'Nugget' in the name. You see, we don't do that here. Trust us."
I believe Heidi will be talking about the implications of that phrase "Trust us" in her blog, but I just want to point out the tone: this menu engaged me. Not in the glitzy focus-group graphic designer inspired red-letter sledgehammer of a daily special, but the same way my best friend might call you up and say "Hey, let's check out the new episode of Saved over a sixpack." It got behind my guard, my automatic filter that resists the hard sell, and gave me the impression that this was written by someone that I would enjoy talking to.
Let's talk about the "special" that they had, for example, which is called "Pancake Flight":
"Our specialty. The theme changes weekly so ask your server...or, come to think of it, you should have a little card somewhere. if you don't...well, let's just say, there'll be hell to pay! Believe you me! Hell to pay! So take a moment and look around. I'm sure there's a specials card somewhere."
Did you catch that first-person comment? "...come to think of it..." you can almost see the menu scratching its head. This is not just a brunch menu, this is a conversational menu. The person who came up with it gets what my friend Amy Gahran keeps trying to hammer into the Press Powers That Be: people are tired of being talked to, they want to be talked with...
The menu has humor: "Buttermilk pancakes (a.k.a. 'Boring Cakes'): A stack of buttermilk pancakes served with–you guessed it– butter." It has mystery: while omelets #4, #6, and #9 are represented, there's no indication of what happened to omelets 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, or 8. It's got things that beggar the imagination:
"Pan Seared Oatmeal
Not yo Mamma's oatmeal, that's for damn sure! What's so different, you ask? Well, for one thing, this ain't served on a bowl, it's served on a plate! That's right, a plate! Does that do anything for ya? No? Try this on for size..." (you'll have to go to the restaurant for the rest of the description, but it involves super human powers)
Sure, the grub tastes good. Their food, which I idiotically did not photograph, is presented in an haute-quisine style that is somehow not elitist. It's just fun, and silly, and they've definitely got a repeat customer in me.
But the menu...that menu is a work of art in terms of customer interaction. When's the last time you had the urge not only to steal a menu*, but actually had to negotiate with your friend (also a blogger) about which aspects each of you were going to blog about, to avoid repetition? It's more proof to me that connection, rather than control, is the key to good communication.
*I didn't steal it. The nice server with the cool tattoos said I could take it. Score!