April 18, 2021

Baby Boomers

Talking Menus: Made to Order

They offer a solution to dim restaurant lighting and failing eyesight.

Barbara Miracle | 4/1/2008

Restaurants can lease five talking menus for $120 a month.

One of the pleasures of eating out is deciding which menu items to order. But reading a menu with small type in a restaurant with dim lighting can be frustrating for aging diners whose eyesight isn’t what it used to be.

Enter the talking menu. It’s a device about the size of a DVD with lighted, labeled buttons for each menu category — appetizers, sandwiches, salads, entrees, etc. Diners who can’t read the category names or the Braille imprints can tap the button once to hear the category name. Tap the button twice, and the talking menu reads all the menu items for that category. The device comes with a hearing aid-compatible earphone for diners who are hard of hearing or who are self-conscious about the talking menu.

“It needs to be easy, and something you can do with your eyes closed,” says Susan Perry, president and CEO of Miami-based Menus That Talk. Perry came up with the idea about two years ago after she forgot her reading glasses when dining out with her 23-year-old niece, who has macular degeneration.

International visitors and locals who feel more comfortable with a language other than English can hear the menu in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Mandarin, Japanese, German, Russian or a custom language. Perry says she recently received an inquiry from a Saskatchewan restaurant interested in having its menu in Czech.

Menu changes are made online. Forty-eight hours later, the restaurant owner can plug the menu devices into her computer’s USB port and download the changes spoken by professional actors or update the devices using a flash memory card. Perry says the company is working on wireless updating.

Restaurants can lease five units for $120 a month or buy all five for $3,500. Restaurants in San Antonio, Texas, and Boca Raton have the units. Perry says that Disney is evaluating the device. She is working with four or five chain restaurants and also has had inquiries from the National Park Service.

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