13 Steps to Proofreading Your Restaurant’s Menu Like a Pro
You have spent years perfecting your recipes. You have your FOH operations down to a science. You and your team have created that one-of-a-kind ambiance locals love and tourists go out of their way to experience while they’re visiting the Northwoods.
Now putting the same level of attention and care into creating your menu is a must.
Your patrons hold your menus in their hands and pore over the words in sweet anticipation of the meal they will savor. While they may be quick to send back a dish that’s a hair overdone, they may not remark on a spelling error they spotted in your appetizers section. But the discerning diner will notice your typos. Grammar and spelling may not have been your favorite parts of the school day, but your words are an essential ingredient of the overall dining experience you create. They communicate the level of quality, care, and professionalism of your brand and your establishment.
Don’t get us wrong—good spelling and grammar don’t necessarily mean being formal. We’re from the Northwoods of Wisconsin, after all, so we appreciate the casual, the rustic. So whether your establishment’s style is pub ‘n’ grub or fine dining, learning how to proofread your menu like a pro will go a long way toward communicating your establishment’s quality and credibility to your diners.
How to Proofread Your Restaurant’s Menu Like a Pro
Here are some things to keep in mind when you are creating your menu:
1. Watch out for commonly misspelled words.
Everyone has words that trip them up time after time. Here are a few examples of commonly misspelled words that might appear on your menu:
- hors d’oeuvres
2. Take a second glance at homophones.
Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently. Here are some common examples:
- they’re (they are), their (possessive), and there (answers the question, where?)
- its (possessive form of it) vs. it’s (it is)
- whose (possessive form of who) vs. who’s (who is)
- to (the preposition), two (the number), and too (also, or indicates an amount)
Also look out for words that sound similar but not quite that same:
- accept (to admit) vs. except (but not)
- affect (usually a verb meaning influence or impact) vs. effect (usually a noun meaning consequence)
3. Omit unnecessary apostrophes.
In almost all cases, when forming the plural version of a word, an apostrophe is not used. (I’d like to order two pizzas, not two pizza’s.)
It is tempting to use an apostrophe when forming the plural of special menu items (like fish fries or bloody marys) or families (The Smiths have reserved a table for four.), but the apostrophe still is not necessary in such cases.
4. Befriend your dictionary—and Google.
No need to lug the heavy, dusty book from your shelf. Simply head to a reputable online dictionary like Merriam-Webster if you’re uncertain how to spell cioppino. Similarly, there’s no shame in consulting Google when checking the spelling of a brand name or a well-known person’s name.
5. Use tools like spell check and Grammarly with caution.
With the recent improvement of AI, tools to aid your writing are ever-increasing and improving. However, use them with caution. Carefully read their suggestions before accepting them, or run the risk of introducing new errors into your menu.
6. Create a style sheet.
Your third-grade language arts teacher may have told you otherwise, but for many aspects of written language, there aren’t clear rights and wrong but rather common conventions. The most important thing is to keep these points consistent throughout your menu—and ideally in all of the menus, signage, and other writeups you produce in the future. Writers, designers, and marketing professionals alike keep track of these points with what’s called a style sheet or style guide. Decide how you want to treat the following points and others like them:
Do you capitalize the first letter of each word in the menu item, just in the first word, or leave it all lowercase?
Do all descriptions, or none at all, end with a period?
Dates and days
Is today 1/21, January 21, Jan. 21, or January 21st? Are you open Thurs–Sun or Thursday to Sunday?
Is it 3:00 p.m., 3 PM, or 3pm?
Does the broiled Canadian walleye cost $22 or $22.00?
Phone numbers and addresses
Can we reach you at (212) 555-1212 and 100 E. Main St., Pleasant Town, WI, or 212-555-1212 and 100 East Main Street, Pleasant Town, Wisconsin?
In lists of three or more items, do you use a comma before and or or?
Are you using closed em dashes (—), spaced en dashes (–), or hyphens (-) to separate phrases in your descriptions?
In many cases, it is equally correct to use or omit a hyphen after prefixes like pre-, post-, and anti-. Choose what you prefer, and make it consistent.
Hyphens are also used for clarity when more than one word is used as an adjective before the noun they are describing—like “sun-ripened tomatoes” or “garden-fresh vegetables.” On the other hand, a hyphen typically isn’t used after -ly words—so “freshly baked pie” is preferred to “freshly-baked pie.” But if you choose to go against the grain, do it consistently. Remember, if you do it once, it’s an error. If you do it consistently, it’s an intentional style decision.
Bulleted and numbered lists
Do all of your bullets have the same style? Are your numbers all followed by periods or surrounded by parentheses?
You get the picture. There are no wrong answers, merely preferences. But your diners perceive inconsistencies as errors rather than intentional style choices.
Double-check that all event dates and days are correct. If your menu mentions items of special interest to diners with allergies or dietary restrictions, make sure this information is up to date and accurate.
Okay, you’ve written your menu. Now the real proofreading begins.
8. Read your menu all the way through.
Read your menu all the way through once soon after you finish writing it. That way you will catch any grave typos that will leave you scratching your head after you forget what you meant to write.
9. Step away from your menu for a bit, and then proofread it again.
Fresh eyes and attention catch errors more effectively.
10. Read it aloud, or have your computer read it to you.
You will find errors when you are listening that you didn’t catch while you were reading. If you get distracted while you are reading aloud, you’re in good company! Try using the Read Aloud function in Microsoft Word to have your computer read your menu to you. If possible, ask someone else to proofread your menu. Outside feedback is invaluable.
11. Use your style sheet as a checklist, and check for inconsistencies.
It’s more effective to scan your document for one type of issue at a time rather than looking for all types of errors at once. Add to this list checking for errors such as extra or missing spaces between words and between lines, extra or missing punctuation, and similar issues.
12. Refine your wording.
Beyond a lack of errors, make sure each description is clear and accurate so your customers know what to expect to receive on their plates.
This is also a chance to make each description sparkle. Take out excessive words. Scout out overused phrases, and replace them with fresh synonyms. Alternate long, descriptive sentences with short, crisp ones. Treat each description as an opportunity to really sell that item.
13. Turn your eye to formatting and design.
Look out for unintentional changes in text size, style (e.g., bold or italic), and size. If your menu is in a multicolumn or multipage format, make sure descriptions aren’t broken between lines, columns, or pages in ways that could confuse your patrons. Make sure the fonts, sizes, and colors you use make it a breeze for diners to read your menu—even in the dimmest corners and swankiest mood lighting of your restaurant. If you plan to post your menu online, check the formatting on your computer, tablet, and smartphone to make sure customers can read it on the device they’re using.
If you made it all the way through this list, congratulations! Your menu is likely as finely tuned as your broasted chicken is expertly seasoned. But if you would like some assistance, that’s okay, too. Contact 5 Star Marketing & Distribution today to learn more about our services that can help you create and edit your restaurant’s menu. Our friendly team can help you craft menu item descriptions, create a unique design, and print high-quality and professional-looking menus.
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