Good typeface for Menu design.

James Deux's picture

Hello all,

I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions for a good menu typeface? It'd be no more than two pages; no abnormal glyphs necessary. It'll probably be set in 14 pt, with a leading perhaps a hair larger than standard (assuming standard is something like 14/16). It's a fine dining restaurant, with an Italian cuisine bias.

I'm looking for a serif that isn't boring, but at the same time, something where the vertical and horizontal strokes are predictable enough so as not to be distracting to the reader.

Just to give you some more ideas: When set in Minion Pro, I was pleased with the small letter width (in comparison to Times or Sabon, which I set for comparison), as well as the cleanliness, almost "friendliness" of the font. I wasn't a fan of the contrast between the thicks and the thins.

Meanwhile, I also took a look at the menu set in exljbris' Fontin typeface. It was a little too idiosyncratic for my tastes, but the strength of each letter form on the page was very assertive and I was wondering if there was something similar though not as humanist (assuming I'm even using that work correctly.)


DrDoc's picture

14pt is HUGE. I wouldn't set anything larger than 12, as an absolute limit, if I'm trying to go for a fine-dining feel.

Your criteria are still very general. Are you looking for something that's bundled? If you're looking for low contrast, you could try Chaparral, but that's still pretty humanist.

JamesM's picture

What fonts does the restaurant use in its logo, signage, and advertising?

J. Tillman's picture

I don't have too much experience in fine dining restaurants, but some have dim lighting, almost like candle light. Test your design in the restaurant after dark.

There is a trade-off. If you want a font that's not so thin, it will probably be a little wider; more ink gets put on the paper.

There is another trade-off. A font like Minion may look more
"sophisticated" than a low contrast font like Chaparral. And I say that as a big fan of Chaparral. If you have to choose between sophistication and readability...

Again, I haven't seen too many fine-dining menus. But I think the diners appreciate a easy-to-read menu at the ambient lighting.

J. Tillman

James Deux's picture

Hey everyone, thanks for your comment.

12 pt it is then; 14pt was a shot in the dark. I was looking at the menu I had in my hand and guessed.

To specify even further: I guess what I'm looking for, in a sentence: Is there a superb body typeface that any well standing typographer could look at and say: "This is a body typeface not meant for any book." I don't know if such a thing exists!

There is no brand consistency. The logo is set in Times with a vertical stretching of the first letters. It's decent, but if we look to it to set the standard, we aren't getting very far. Times is set, throughout.

The lighting is very dark, but you bring a good point. Thank you.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Sounds like you need a designer, James.

nina's picture

He's a student, Frode. Might just be he's wanting to learn how to do this himself. :)


James: Trying to settle on the point size before settling on a font is a total shot in the dark, no matter if you say 12 or 14. :-) Because the actual size of the letters, and the question of how large (and how readable) they look, is going to vary greatly according to the font you choose. 14pt doesn't need to be huge, depending on font and application.

It seems to me a bit like you're trying to find too-precise answers too early. There probably isn't going to be The One Precise Perfect Font for this project, but many good options and many not-so-good ones. So what you really need now are the right questions. What in fact are you looking for? What do you need in a font so that it can do this job?
One very good point is raised by J. Tillman above. Restaurant menus are read in the near-dark – and they're not supposed to frustrate people, but tickle their appetite! So you need something that's very clear, and maybe actually is a bit bigger than usual, so that it will read pretty much effortlessly.
Are there other practical constraints?
Another question would be aesthetics – how this should feel. Classy? Standard? Expensive? Quick? Leisurely? Luxurious? If you can find some more words to describe the feeling you're after, that will make the search much easier. Also, where does your idea come from that the horizontals and verticals should not be very different? Is this just personal preference, or why do you believe it will do the job better?
And if you're stuck, just go play – try out some options, and take the printouts to an actual restaurant to check. Train your eyes; observe.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I didn’t realize:) And I wasn’t going to suggest me. Sometimes it just seems so wierd how everybody suddenly became a “designer”, all the while the huge majority of them don’t now squat (not refering to this thread). I think maybe I need a good long internet break.

James Deux's picture

(not refering to this thread)

*yanks lighter away from portfolio* There is hope!

Well nina, what I think is best will make everyone shrill loudly. But given that the client is a relative (yes... one of those jobs *wink*) free will work best, even if the typeface is stretching it a wee bit. ;–)

But, in a perfect world, with a little bit of persuasion, something between classy and relaxed. It is indeed a fancy restaurant, but located in suburban Connecticut, so the clientele is upper-middle class. But they certainly would stick out in a high-end NYC joint (whatever that means.) I'm thinking this means proportionality... a serif that doesn't let its white space (within each letterform) get too liberal. So our basic Sabon is getting close, but still doesn't seem appropriate.

Or maybe, how about this: if you were taking a morning stroll through an Italian vineyard, the type of typography you'd want to see on a wooden sign, drenched in shadow from a canopy of trees.

Not garamondial, not a (noticeably) slab serif, nothing too humanist (though a tad bit wouldn't hurt...) But I'm not too turned off from Minion, so, what I'm thinking:

Is there a serif from like before the 1900s that looked like someone has designed it from the past twenty years?

Very vague, but you all know so much more than I so maybe I'm barking up a tree and just don't know it yet.

nina's picture

"if you were taking a morning stroll through an Italian vineyard, the type of typography you'd want to see on a wooden sign, drenched in shadow from a canopy of trees."

Now that's what I call a description :D
Not easy, but if it should be free, maybe Jos Buivenga's Calluna?

"Is there a serif from like before the 1900s that looked like someone has designed it from the past twenty years?"

Eh, plenty in recent times. Maybe not free tho.
Your description made me think of Kris Sowersby's wonderfully soft Feijoa, or if you want more booky/typographic, maybe his Galaxie Copernicus (a very fresh [IMO] Plantin-based design). Are these anything like what you're thinking of?

James Deux's picture

Oh nina how thoughtful! Just a day after mah birfday and you have given me an excuse to consider Galaxie Copernicus! *swoon*

(I really did smile though.)

Sadly though, Calluna seems to be the best. Those crossbars (?) on the 'e' are a bit much. (I guess I should have said it should have as few similarities to Adobe's Jenson as possible). But I'm going to give it a try. I need to set the copy eventually and this is a good first stab.

Thank you so much for all your help. If you think of anything else I'd love to hear.

EDIT: Feijoa is nice too but much too swashy with the serifs.

Nick Shinn's picture

The standard format of Paradigm is $9.
Sorry, the default figures are proportional old style.
You probably require tabular lining.

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