While restaurant interior design has long been lauded in the design community, menus have only recently begun to attract the attention of aesthetes. Gone are the days of Comic Sans and Papyrus. Menus are no longer looked at as simply a roster of dishes, but rather an art form unto itself—just like they were during the golden age of menu design. And since all movements need a documenter, Armin Vit—an Austin, TX-based graphic designer—has taken up the charge, celebrating the under-appreciated menu through his website Art of the Menu.
“One day I was reviewing some work for one of our blogs, Brand New, and part of the project was a menu that was really well designed,” Vit says. “Then I stumbled upon one or two more menus that week and I thought, ‘There needs to be a blog just for menus.’ Next thing you know, we are running a blog just for menus. It was a very specific niche that no one was covering.”
A good menu should feel good in your hands and sort of kick starts the experience of eating somewhere.
After moving from Mexico City at 22 and working at graphic design firms in Atlanta, Chicago, and New York, Vit and his wife, Bryony Gomez-Palacio, settled in Austin, where they launched UnderConsideration, a multifaceted design enterprise. In addition to designing for clients, the duo runs a network of prestigious graphic design blogs, including Art of the Menu.
Since its inception, the site has featured over 400 menus from around the world, showcasing gorgeous designs cropping up everywhere from a beer hall in Ireland, to a swanky hotel restaurant in Kenya.
“A good menu displays tactility and clarity,” Vit says. “You have to have something that stands out—and blends in—with the restaurant, that feels good in your hands, and sort of kick starts the experience of eating somewhere. And you want clarity because you want to know what’s on the menu, what its ingredients are, and how much it costs.”
Every menu on the blog is accompanied by a paragraph about what makes the design successful, the influences that inspired the look, or an anecdote from the restaurant. The Phoenicia Diner in the Catskill Mountains (where FWF can vouch for the pancakes) channels a retro-chic camping aesthetic, while Aroma in Minorca, Spain has a menu that more closely resembles a book you’d find at the Guggenheim.
“Too much creative freedom can lead to menus that are too elaborate, pricey, or inappropriate to the clientele,” Vit says. “And having too many constraints certainly stifles any potential result. But as long as the designer is working within the brief and the budget and the client understands that a designer is there to help them create something unique and memorable, then the results are bound to be good.”
While understanding the mission of the restaurant is important, Vit says that the actual food itself plays less of a role. “I’m not a foodie—is that still even a term? I mean, I like food; I eat it, but I don’t obsess about it. I’m solely interested in the design. The food on some of the menus I love could be disastrous, but I would never know.”
Here, Vit shares 10 of his favorite menus from around the world, from a bill of fare that takes its cues from Mexican sign-painting, to a DIY New York classic.