The Evolution of Restaurant Menus

The evolution of restaurant menus

As we shared the results of a survey around confusing menu jargon, we couldn’t help but wonder about the evolution of restaurant menus. Here, contributor Nevin Martell takes a look at how they’ve changed throughout history.

For centuries, when diners walked into an eatery, they simply ate what the chef was cooking that day. Slowly, as restaurants became more formalized, guests were given options for what they’d like to sup on. Paper menus codifying those choices first started appearing in the mid-18th century in Paris. What began as a phenomenon became an integral part of the dining experience around the world.

The evolution of restaurant menus

But don’t mistake menus as simply a list of what’s to eat. They have become barometers of the shifting tides of history. “They are a great reflection of pop culture, the eating habits of Americans, and a way to follow larger trends,” says Jim Heimann, editor of Menu Design in America, 1850-1985 and a collector with more than 6,000 menus in his archives. “For example, speakeasies in the 1920’s had coded language on their menus. It might say, ‘Ginger ale is available for your consumption.’ This meant you had a mixer for your booze. During World War II, there was an absence of a lot of items due to rationing. And in the 1960’s, you see artwork reflective of the counterculture.”

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Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants: Michael Bauer’s 2010 Picks Are In!

Bay Area foodies — and fortunate restaurateurs and chefs — rejoice! San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer has released his carefully curated annual list of the “Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants.”

Cuisine types reveal the melting pot that the Bay Area restaurant scene is, with Asian, barbecue, California-Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Moroccan, Peruvian, and Vietnamese populating the list alongside California, Contemporary American, and Italian, among others. A very helpful feature of Bauer’s culinary guide to one of the world’s top cities for food is its noise ratings, a factor that can help diners in search of a lively experience or a peaceful meal. Bauer also points out house specialties to help novices order well. Insider insights regarding parking make arriving in time for your reservation even easier.

While we all may gaze at critics with envy, Bauer has revealed, in his blog and in the accompanying San Francisco Chronicle Magazine article, that putting together this exhaustive, impressive, and informative round-up is anything but easy. Call it a labor of love, but it remains a labor, with hard choices and harsh cuts right up until press time. He writes in the Magazine of the process, ” Maybe next year I should offer the Top 150.” Sounds good to us!

Honorees include: A16, Acquerello, Ad Hoc, Amber India, Ame, Aziza, Baker and Banker, Bar Bambino, BayWolf, Betelnut, BIX, Bottega, Bouchon, Boulevard, Cafe La Haye, Camino, Chapeau, Chez Panisse, Chez Papa Resto, COCO500, Coi, Cyrus, The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton, Dosa, Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, Flora, Flour+Water, Foreign Cinema, Frances, Frascati, The French Laundry, Greens, House of Prime Rib, Jardiniere, Kaygetsu, La Folie, Madrona Manor, Manresa, Masa’s, Michael Mina, Murray Circle at Cavallo Point, Neela’s, Nombe, One Market, Perbacco/Barbacco, Pesce, Picco/Pizzeria Picco, Piperade, Poggio, Press, Quince, Range, Redd, The Restaurant at Meadowood, Rivoli, RN74, Sante, Slanted Door, Solbar, SPQR, Spruce, Sushi Ran, Terra, The Tipsy Pig, Town Hall, Va De Vi, Wexler’s, Willi’s Wine Bar, Wood Tavern, Yoshi’s Jazz Club and Restaurant, and Zuni Cafe.

How many of Bauer’s best of the Bay Area restaurants list have you eaten at? What restaurants didn’t make the cut but should have? Let us know here or join the conversation over on Facebook.