Are you bothered by typos on menus?

Over the years, I’ve looked at so many restaurant menus, riddled with typos, misspellings, and other seemingly obvious mistakes, that they rarely elicit more than a shrug, or maybe a giggle, or a screenshot text message to an observant friend. And it’s rarely worth mentioning if the menu was clearly written by someone whose native language isn’t English. I’m never surprised when, for example, tripe is listed as “triple” or “triples”.

But I hear from many people who disagree, especially when obvious care has gone into the design and layout of a menu for a new and prominent restaurant.

As one reader recently wrote, “If they can’t spell their menu items, what might the attention to detail in preparation look like?”

It might seem a shocking oversight to an outside observer, but misspellings in menus are common in the industry. Although an online menu is for many potential diners their first introduction to a restaurant, management rarely seems to put the resources into content that they invest in other parts of a website. They often pay for a professional web designer and sometimes even a photographer, but when it comes to the actual words on the menu, they don’t seem to see the value in hiring an off-the-eyes expert. They think it’s their menu and they know it best after months of development, writing and rewriting, so why would they need someone to look at it?

But that’s exactly why: to get a fresh look. As a writer, I know all too well that after you’ve looked at something dozens or dozens of times, you tend to read what you think it says, rather than what it actually says. This is precisely why newspapers have multiple readers for each story before it finally gets to print – and we still have errors.

In the case of a restaurant, what usually happens is that the chef and the owner, when they are different people, finalize the menu together, keep going back and forth, and focus on what’s new/changed, glossing over that , what is already there and not. They don’t need to be fixed (or so they think).

This leads to obvious errors that an automatic spell checker would probably highlight. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen variations of “cipollini” that I recall with a pattern memory of consonants often being doubled in their misspelling: 1-2-1. (Amusingly, Microsoft Word’s spell checker recognizes “cipollini,” but the word processing software used for our site says it’s wrong. It also doesn’t like “spellcheck” and “spellchecker,” which Word allows.) Things are even worse when the chef is also the owner, writes the menu alone and passes it on to one or the other for perusal.

I don’t pay for freelance proofreading jobs for myself, which I couldn’t do for local restaurants anyway. But if an operator thinks first impressions count, hire a food and language-savvy outsider to scrutinize the menu before putting it online or, most importantly, paying to print it.

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