Restaurants Are Confusing Everyone with Their Weirdly Named Dishes

According to new research, 79 percent of British diners feel menus can be “overly confusing” and over half admitted to having asked a server to explain a dish.

by Phoebe Hurst
Nov 3 2015, 1:22pm

So you're at that hot new tapas place with your hashtagging foodie friends or having dinner with a Tinder match who turned out to be a "culinarily adventurous vegetarian." You're ready to impress with your passing knowledge of Ottolenghi and whatever you managed to glean from that half-watched episode of Chef's Table.

Then you read the menu.

Mirepoix? Vegetables that have been chiffonaded? And what's a "veal hongroise" when it's at home?

There are few dining horrors as acute as being faced with an impenetrable menu and a waiter who looks like he might start breathing fire if you mispronounce the name of the only mid-price point bottle on the wine list. Why, you wonder, as the pressure to order something that doesn't end up being steamed vegetables mounts, Must restaurants insist on writing menus that require Google Translate and a stint at Le Cordon Bleu to decipher?

You're not the only one. According to new research from restaurant booking service OpenTable, 79 percent of British diners feel menus can be "overly confusing" and over half admitted to having asked a server for help clarifying items.

READ MORE: Menu Substitution Is a Sign of Bad Manners

Much like the old refusing-to-ask-for-directions stereotype, men were found to be the most reluctant to have dishes explained to them, with just 49 percent of male diners saying they had asked waitstaff to clarify items, compared to 54 percent of women.

Despite being happy to drop most of their income on eating out, Millennials were also pretty reluctant to request any kind of clarification over what they were about to put into their mouths. Forty percent of 18 to 24-year-olds admitted to feeling too embarrassed to ask a waiter for help, compared with just 13 percent of over-55s.

Lighten up, guys! If you mum isn't ashamed to audibly announce to a dining room of bearded Bloody Mary drinkers that she still doesn't "quite understand the difference between this 'brunch' thing and a late breakfast" then what's your problem?

The study went on to rank the most confusing words on British menus, with the salad dish "salmagundi," "Buccan cooked meat," and "beignet" (that's a type of pastry, FYI) coming out on top. Ceviche was also commonly misunderstood, but that's something that can be easily rectified with a little raw fish education.

Of course, on the other side of the pass, kitchen staff have their own set of menu-related grievances, especially those concerning diners who request that delicious carbs be substituted for gluten free options. One solution could be to offer set menus, meaning that chefs get to make and name what they want and customers trust that they're getting something delicious.

But even then, there's always the risk that someone will complain that they didn't realise monkfish liver invovled an actual monkfish.

READ MORE: The Best Dish Is the One You Didn't Order

For Fred Sirieix, general manager at Michelin-starred London restaurant Galvin at Windows, it's down to the restaurant to idiot-proof their menu. Speaking to The Daily Mail, he said: "Restaurants need to be more conscious of the way their menus are written as the recent research shows people like them to be clear, concise, and without confusing jargon."

But flouncy language and French words don't necessarily equate to jargon, Fred. As London chef Tom Oldroyd explained when naming his new courgette rice dish, "I'm a menu nerd. I called it 'courgette and cobnut risotto' as it sounds better. 'Gnocchi and cavolo nero' isn't as good as 'gnocchi and black cabbage,' but I wouldn't say 'potato dumpling.'"

If it sounds better on paper, the chef may well have put a bit more effort into making it taste better, too. Sometimes, it's good to embrace your inner menu nerd.