Paint me a Picture

Using Images to Market Food and Drink in Restaurants and Pubs

One of the simplest ways to depict food and drink, and certainly the oldest, is pictorially, as below.

The event was a dinner in Paris in 1937, held for an international theatre organization.

The reason is simple to contemplate: most attendees did not speak French. The simple pen-and-ink drawings gave them an idea of the food to be served, and drinks. A secondary reason may have been the inclination of those trained in the dramatic arts to communicate by visual impact, sometimes without verbal aid (think of silent movies).

It is surprising that ideograms, or pictograms properly speaking, aren’t used more often on menus. The “Mad Men” have long known that images on billboards and food labels convey strong content but one sees it much less in restaurant menus.*

Images of bottled or canned beer are sometimes included in a menu offering these formats, but not as often as one might think. In part, the reason is probably continuing change of supply and increased cost to keep the images current.

For draft beer, given beer has a variety of colours a skilled artist can render a bar’s offerings in pictographic form. Where a specific glass is used for each beer, the content can be even stronger. You could put Russian or Irish iconography around a glass of stout, say.

Shape and colour can prompt or encourage consumer demand. Many people react to images positively, I see this on social media a lot. To suggest that a person’s reaction is childish and intemperate someone might upload an image of a crying baby, maybe from a well-known film or tv show.

Emotional reactions are frequently depicted in this way, a primal form of communication that has returned ironically with a hyper-sophisticated medium, Twitter.

Obs. You know you are in France when not less than four alcohol courses accompany, not a special gastronomic evening, but a meal for a trade group: aperitifs for the hors-d’oeuvre, Riesling with the soup, Burgundy with the duck and lamb, and Champagne to conclude.

The caterer no doubt proposed liqueurs with the coffee. One can imagine the organizers were mindful the troupes had a show to mount the next day, or of their budget.

Perhaps one should speak in the past tense of this Gallic proclivity. What’s bred in the bone may be no longer…

Note re images: the first and third images are from the Culinary Institute of America’s Digital Collections, see further details here. The second image is from the source identified and linked in an earlier post of ours, here. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*An exception may be some Asian cuisines, at least in Western markets, as I recall numerous menus with colourful depictions of the foods offered. I may be wrong but I associate this practice with popular or lunch-oriented eating.