The Trick Dog Effect

By Sean Kenniff | Megan Swann


Sean Kenniff
Megan Swann
Collection of Menus from San Francisco
Collection of Menus from San Francisco

In San Francisco, the mischievous and now famous 2013 Pantone menu from Trick Dog broke open a whole new world of menu design, marking a playful shift in guest experience. Now, alternately elaborate and elegant, idiosyncratic, and sometimes just plain beautiful, the menus of San Francisco aim to be iconic. In the tradition of legendary fine-dining spot, Chanterelle, whose menu ended up in New York City art galleries and are still sought after today, these menus are thoughtful documents that engage customers beyond, “I’ll have the chicken.”

It’s nearly impossible to think of Lazy Bear without seeing plaid, and vice versa. Same goes for that sated, sleepy bear. The strong design, in all its flannel glory, is as memorable as the dining experience it represents. The Lazy Bear menu is a field guide. After snacks and cocktails in the rompus room-esque loft, 40 diners descend to the dining hall for 10 courses, each of which has its own illustrated page in the booklet. Diners are given mini-golf pencils to make notes.

At State Bird Provisions, the dim-sum style cart and corresponding check-system have reverberated far outside the Bay Area, with restaurants across the country adopting a similar format. The Trick Dog owners and Bon Vivants, Scott Baird and Josh Harris, designed the interactive gin and tonic menu at Aatxe, providing guests with almost infinite possibilities. At Cadence, a fine- dining concept that transitions smoothly to the bar and performance space Mr. Tipples, the menu is designed invitingly, arriving at the table in a crisp envelope. Californios uses an envelope as well, containing a menu with imagery designed by the chef and his wife—indicative of the personal, whimsical 16 courses of fine-dining Mexican on the flip side.

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