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Why Do I Need Reading Glasses for the Menu?

Smaller font size and dim lighting make for a challenging night out

By Lisa Beach

Recently, my husband Kevin and I went out to dinner sans teens, a special event in itself. We decided to forego our usual Tex-Mex spot in favor of a Spanish restaurant offering great tapas. This translates to a quieter, dimmer, adults-only atmosphere conducive to lingering over our meal, sharing a glass of wine and not issuing please-chew-with-your-mouth-closed reminders.

Reading Glasses
Credit: Adobe Stock

With Spanish murals and soft guitar music as our romantic backdrop, we sat at our table, picked up our menus and tried to focus on the 6-point-font-sized list of appetizers.

We perused the menu for a few minutes before one of us (probably me) finally said, “I can’t see a darn thing. Why do they have to make the type so small?”

I held the menu far enough away to be in another ZIP code while Kevin adopted his best Robert De Niro face as he tried to discern what camerones al ajillo means. “Is this in Spanish . . . or can we really just not see . . . or both?” he asked.

Let There Be Light

After struggling for a few more minutes, we cast pride aside and Kevin reached for his reading glasses while I whisked out my credit-card size magnifier that fits in my wallet. (Good God, do I really own a credit-card size magnifier?)

I leaned in toward the votive candle for an extra 2 watts hoping not to catch the menu on fire, although the extra light from the flames would have helped. Meanwhile, Kevin broke out his iPhone flashlight app. With the added luminosity and 2x magnification, we were ready to order.

When the waiter arrived with some water, we questioned him about croquetas, patas a la brava, and other yummy things we usually don’t get to eat because of our finicky teens' pizza-and-taco-based dining options.

Our waiter described these delicacies in detail as we stared at him with rapt attention, but not exactly able to understand what he was saying (just a little bit because I can’t hear, I swear).

Hesitatingly, I asked, “So, these are spicy potatoes?”

The waiter nodded.

Trying to summon his best high school Spanish, Kevin ordered the potato thing, some empanadas and (we hoped) the shrimp appetizer, camerones al ajillo. Praying we didn’t just order squid (calamares) with Kevin’s rusty Spanish, we concentrated on the wine list, with a font size that was even smaller than the appetizer list.


Not wanting to delay the quick delivery of wine to our table, I abandoned hope of deciphering the menu and just ordered some merlot, hoping it didn’t cost $20 a glass. The waiter said something else and paused, perhaps waiting for my response. Not wanting to ask for the third time already, “Can you please say that again?” I looked at him, nodded and smiled. Then he looked at me, nodded and smiled, now knowing that I pretty much couldn't hear a word he just said.

Challenged by a Micro-Font

The food was fabulous, and we enjoyed the rest of our dinner without a hitch.

And then the bill came. The pale-gray-on-white-paper bill – again with the micro-font. We panicked because we couldn’t see the total. And if we couldn’t see the total, how could we leave a tip? We huddled together like a small football team trying to remember the playbook.

“Did the shrimp cost $13 or $18? I can’t tell if that’s a 1 or a 7, can you? Didn’t we end up ordering two spicy potato dishes?” This felt like a nightmarish adult version of an algebra class word problem: If we each ordered one glass of wine at $12 each and we’re leaving the restaurant at 9 p.m. traveling east on the highway at 45 mph …

We started to break out in a sweat as we noticed the waiter come by twice to see if we were ready to pay. In desperation, we took out the iPhone flashlight again, causing the other diners to turn and glare at whatever was killing the ambience in the room. How embarrassing! Quick turn it off! Turn it off!

We whipped out our cash, handed it to the waiter and scurried out with our eyes averting the others, like two teens caught making out in the back seat of their dad’s Ford Fusion.

We caught our breath  in the parking lot — from the scurrying — and agreed that our next date night needed to be less stressful. We made a pact to choose the restaurant based not on type of cuisine or location or even what Groupon we haven't used, but on which one has the better overhead lighting.

Lisa Beach is a freelance journalist and copywriter. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Eating Well, Good Housekeeping, and more. Check out her website here.   Read More
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