Month: June 2014

4 Tips for Menu Writing

Photo courtesy of agamamedia
Photo courtesy of agamamedia.

Summer is a time for specials, late-night happy hours, and updated summertime menus. In honor of this, I thought I’d do a follow-up post on 4 tips for menu writing. There are so many decisions to make when it comes to designing your menu, it’s easy to get lost in the choices. You want your menu to be error-free and consistent in its choices, as it will be thoroughly examined by your customers, who will notice typos and inconsistencies. To help create a better menu, consider these 4 tips for menu writing.

FULL CAPS or Headline Caps?

As important as the typeface on your menu (you want your final font choices to be easy-to-read, even in low lighting) is the style in which you write your menu items.

Do you choose ALL CAPS:

THE BLUE CHEESE BURGER – FOR THE CHEESE LOVER. A 5 OZ. BURGER, COOKED TO ORDER AND TOPPED WITH LETTUCE, TOMATO, GRILLED ONIONS, AND A LAYER OF BLUE CHEESE CRUMBLES.

Or Headline Caps:

The Blue Cheese Burger – For The Cheese Lover. A 5 Oz. Burger, Cooked to Order and Topped with Lettuce, Tomato, Grilled Onions, and a Layer of Blue Cheese Crumbles.

Or a mix of the two:

THE BLUE CHEESE BURGER – For the Cheese Lover. A 5 oz. burger, cooked to order and topped with Lettuce, Tomato, Grilled Onions, and a layer of Blue Cheese Crumbles.

My suggestion? Use headline caps for the food name, and sentence caps for the description:

The Blue Cheese Burger – For the cheese lover. A 5 oz. burger, cooked to order and topped with lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, and a layer of blue cheese crumbles.

Should You Capitalize Ingredients?

A popular choice with Chefs and others in the food industry is to always capitalize ingredients when you list them in a menu. Oftentimes the rationale behind this is, “I want the ingredients to stand out” or “I want people to take notice.”

My suggestion? Don’t capitalize ingredients.

I think it’s tacky and bumps the eye too much. I also too often see inconsistencies when someone tries to capitalize certain words, and not others. Do you capitalize, “Side of Roasted Potatoes” or “side of Roasted Potatoes” or “Side Of Roasted Potatoes”? Choosing to capitalize some words and not others can lead to noticeable differences in description from one item to the next.

Minimalist or Illustrative Descriptions? 

I’ve seen menus that go from one extreme to the other when it comes to food descriptions. So what should you do? Do you just list the basic ingredients for the dish, or let the personality of your restaurant/chef/dish shine through?

MinimalistThe Blue Cheese Burger – 5 oz. patty, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, blue cheese crumbles

IllustrativeThe Blue Cheese Burger – How do you improve upon a 5 oz. grass-fed, grain-finished American Black Angus beef burger, cooked to perfection and topped with your favorites including organic romaine lettuce, fresh tomato, and sweet grilled onion? We melt on a thick layer of premium blue cheese crumbles. Trust us, it’s delicious.

My suggestion? Think about the tone and personality of your restaurant and find a middle ground .

Personally I prefer more illustrative menus (though not quite as illustrative as the example above). Anyone can serve a burger, so if you want me to buy into yours, I want to know what to expect. Just make sure I can still figure out what you’re serving without too much in-depth reading.

Don’t Go Overboard!

Lastly, as you set up your menu, remember not to go overboard on any aspect. This includes the number of menu items in general, but more importantly, the amount of copy and images on the page. White space is your friend – and while good food photography can be incredibly appetizing, a lot of food photos are not. Don’t crowd your menu with images, descriptions, pricing, or other copy (e.g., trivia, your restaurant’s history, or legalese) and be wary of using too many colors or varying fonts.

You want your food to leave an impression on your customers – not the design and copy choices you make on your menu.

(Not) Using TH and RD When Writing Dates

Something I see often in writing, especially in blogs, that I have an opinion about is the use of TH and RD after dates. For example, the use of June 15th, 2014. As with most aspects of grammar and writing, there are two sides to every “rule” and oftentimes the one that was taught to you in school or you heard “somewhere” a long time ago is the one you go with over something new. But hear me out on why I think (and others too, including Purdue University, who offers a great online grammar & writing guide) that TH and RD are unnecessary when you write dates.

Speaking versus writing.

When we speak dates, we say the TH and RD naturally. “I went to the store on the thirtieth to buy groceries.” Or, I’m excited for July Fourth.”

When we write, when TH and RD are used, it’s due to a tendency to write as you would speak aloud, even if what you’re adding is unnecessary for comprehension. This is why so many people use TH and RD when writing – because they are confusing how they speak with how they (should) be writing. So when you see:

Sunday, June 16, 2014

You read and think to yourself, “Sunday, June sixteenth, two thousand and fourteen.” You don’t think, “Sunday, June sixteen, two thousand and fourteen.” You see the context and your brain reads and understands it correctly.

So why use the TH and RD if we don’t need them? Especially in marketing copywriting, or on billboards, one sheets, or in print, why add in an extraneous and often clunky addition when your brain already helps you understand how to read it without those letters?

Is there ever a time to use TH and RD in dates?

Yes, you should use TH and RD in ordinal numbers, if you’re writing those out in print. What are ordinal numbers? 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th. Of course, you could just write them: first, second, third, fourth, fifth. But if you do use the numerals, you would use TH and RD, because if you saw a list that just said: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – you would probably read it as “one, two, three, four, five” and thus the TH and RD in this instance assist in clarification.

Another instance? If you’re writing out a sentence like, “The package will arrive by the first of August.” I think this is the best way to write out a sentence like that, but if you are going to use the numeral, then it would be clearer to write, “The package will arrive by the 1st of August” rather than, “The package will arrive by the 1 of August.”

I hope this helps clarify (and perhaps convince you) why you should not use TH and RD when writing dates. Good luck and happy writing!

13 Motivational Quotes for Writers

I love quotes, and sometimes – especially as a writer – you need a bit of a pick me up to remind you why you keep doing what you’re doing. So in honor of the upcoming full-moon Friday the 13th this month (who’s superstitious here?), I present 13 motivational quotes for writers that meant something to me, and I hope they do for you as well.

1. I got this feeling after I put down The Stranger by Camus.

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2. If you’re feeling a bit down or isolated, a book can keep you company.

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3. I have to repeat this to myself sometimes during my first drafts.

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4. It’s often more about sweat and work than pure talent.

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5. This quote has always kept me optimistic. Day 1 can always be today.

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 6. Good to remember as you prepare to dig into a big rewrite. Or task.

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7. Yes, I’ve shut a book before and just stared at the cover for a bit. There should be a savasana position for this.

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8. This keeps me able to laugh with myself and at myself sometimes.

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9. Write what you know. Write what you must.

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10. If you have issues with too much backstory and exposition, maybe the story you really want to tell begins much earlier than you think.

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11. I have a t-shirt of this, because I believe in it so much. Not all adaptations are bad; but if you like the movie, read the book!

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12. Somehow this makes sense, and I love that it does.

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13.  This reminds of of another quote I love, “I am too much of a skeptic to deny the possibility of anything.” [T.H. Huxley]. I search for magic every day, and I hope others do too.

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Changing Tense Writing Exercise

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Hello again. I took a week off for Memorial Day weekend and had a lovely time – I hope you all did as well. I can’t believe it’s already June – we’re hitting the halfway mark of 2014 so quickly!

For today, I wanted to present a writing exercise that I think is helpful when you’re trying to determine whether you should be writing your novel (or short piece) in past or present (or future) tense.

Past tense: Can establish distance from a subject or topic, and grant authority or credibility as the reader trusts that the narrator has had time to analyze and reflect upon the story and any lessons learned. Can also add a nostalgic tone. Many novels are written in past tense.

Present tense: May establish immediacy and tension, as the action is occurring as the reader reads, and we do not know what will happen next. When paired with first person POV, it can also bring us closer to the narrator  as we feel as if we are experiencing the story with him/her. Most screenplays are written in third-person, present tense.

Future tense: Not commonly used in literature, though there is (of course) this Reddit thread about it.

Changing Tense Writing Exercise

  1. Start with one page, double spaced, from whatever you’re working on – though you can revise it so that a full section fits on the page. Print out the original text.
  2. Go back through and change all verbs and all writing to a different tense. If you started in past tense, change to present. Make sure you change every instance. Print this out and then do a side-by-side comparison, highlighting any awkward phrases or any revisions that you like more. Do this for the entire page and ask yourself: which tense works best for the piece? What you see might surprise you.

Examples:

ORIGINAL: Everyone cried at dinner, which was probably the reason they let us out early; we had an extended break before we were required to meet back up for campfire. The girls from my cabin made our way toward the usual after-dinner spot: a semi-circle of rocks grouped together under a dying oak tree. The largest of these stones comfortably fit three fourteen-year-old girls.

REVISED: Everyone cries at dinner, which is probably the reason they let us out early; we have an extended break before we are required to meet back up for campfire. The girls from my cabin make our way towards the usual after-dinner spot: a semi-circle of rocks grouped together under a dying oak tree. The largest of the stone comfortably fits three fourteen-year-old-girls.

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