Designing restaurant menus takes a specialized skill set. The designer not only needs to consider how kitchens and bar programs constantly evolve, but also has to factor in sheer physical abuse from the public. It’s a place where design goes beyond just good aesthetics, and one which Kallsen Studio & Design navigated seamlessly for Minneapolis tavern, Red Cow.
Minneapolis designer and fine artist Angela Kallsen started her career with The Wine Company, a fine wine and spirits importer and distributor. There she learned the specialized nuances of design for restaurants. It’s a skillset she then translated in 2005 into her own Kalsen Studio & Design, which specializes in working with companies in the fine dining and wine industries.
“When you do menus, you’re always weighing options,” Angela says. “You have to stay open, think about the environment it’s in, how it’s going to be used, how it’s going to be read.” It comes down to an exercise in user experience, a term usually applied to digital environments. “Wine lists, especially, can be tricky. You don’t want to make the customer flip the page because you’ll end up selling only half the list.”
Kallsen’s work with Minneapolis tavern Red Cow is a case study in the realities of design-meets-real-world. An early iteration of the menu used a cover with a linen finish, which was beautiful but a poor pairing with greasy fingers from Red Cow’s burgers and fries.
Next, Kallsen suggested a synthetic paper for the cover. “It was perfect for resisting grease and stains.” But then the next challenge. Red Cow decided to bring down the menu’s page count, and the synthetic cover was too heavy to fold around the reduced number of text pages. “We finally opted for a lighter, 100# cover stock. It was a compromise that seemed to do the trick.”
Straight, No Chaser
Her dedication to solving Red Cow’s menu issues led owner Luke Shrimp to ask Kallsen to take on the restaurant’s drink menu. “Luke reminded me of a menu I’d done for him at Red Rabbit,” Red Cow’s sister restaurant in the North Loop. “He said, let’s do that, but with a cow aesthetic.”
Kallsen naturally played up the color red and chose fonts, patterns, and illustrations that emphasized beef—“A decidedly Argentine vibe,” as Kallsen puts it. She then filled the 48-page drink menu with quotes, recipes, and backstories on the cocktails and wines it features. The outcome was enthusiastically approved. “Let’s do it,” Shrimp told her, and soon after the menu deployed at Red Cow’s four locations.
Design Well Done
In the time since, the menu has evolved. Designing a menu that can withstand guests’ handling as well as changes in the kitchen is as much an exercise in testing materials as it is in developing good design systems. “Cocktail and wine lists change seasonally,” Kallsen notes.
“There have been changes in the order, the wording, and the offering, but the look has remained pretty much the same.” She adds that, from a design perspective, “You’re not starting from scratch every time, you’re building on what you already have.”