Restaurant menus have gone through a rapid evolution over the past few years. Gone are the doorstop-thick novels at places like The Cheesecake Factory; they’ve been replaced with QR codes so we can scroll through appetizers and entrees on our smartphones. Although many paper menus have been replaced with digital devices, ridiculous restaurant terms — or what is known as “restaurantese” — abides. It’s time to unpack some of these nonsensical terms.
Whether you have a physical menu or a smartphone selection, you’re bound to find some French phrases that make your food sound fancier. In truth, it’s a way for a restaurant to charge an extra five bucks for a dish. Have you ever seen an entree list a side of “pommes puree”? That’s mashed potatoes. Don’t let them fool you; they’re just adding some parsley or chives on top to jack up the price. Or perhaps you’ve seen something with “au jus” at the end. That’s meat juice, my friend, or, as some would call it, gravy. Mashed potatoes and gravy sound much fancier “en français.”
Is a menu item listed as “artisan” or “artisanal”? That’s code for “needlessly artistic” combined with “we’re going to charge you more.” Don’t fall for it.
If a server goes out of her way to describe an item as “fresh,” doesn’t that make you question all of the other ingredients? She certainly doesn’t call the avocados “months-old avocados.” “Fresh” is a filler word meant to impress you.
Of course, I can’t discuss restaurantese terms without bringing up “farm-to-table.” While I appreciate a movement toward sourcing items from local suppliers, the term can mean something as simple as “Chef Reggie gets our meat from the butcher shop down the street.” When the ribeyes start coming with detailed biographies of the animal I’m eating, I’ll be impressed.
Restauranteurs have gotten creative with sizes. You’ve probably heard of “tapas,” which just means “small appetizer.” “Tapas” is a Spanish term that translates roughly into “give us more of your money.” Then there’s “family size” or “sharing” plates. These are larger portions that chefs expect for you to sample and share with the other people at your table. I think all the different-sized plate approaches are more ways to increase the price of your dinner out.
Maybe I’m a culinary cynic, or feel free to call me anti-epicurean, but I think the menu writers are leaning too heavily on restaurantese marketing ploys in order to bring home the locally sourced, grass-fed, cleverly curated, slow-cured bacon.
Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life. Find more at curtishoneycutt.com.