Is "What's your favorite lunch menu?" appropriate question for ESL textbook?
May 9, 2011 11:21 PM   Subscribe

ELT-filter: I'm arguing that "What's your favorite lunch menu?" is Japanese-English phrasing that shouldn't be included in an English textbook.

This is from the customer perspective, not a restaurateur creating a menu. I say that the menu is just that, the list of food items, and not the food itself. "What's your favorite lunch item, lunch combination, lunch special" are OK from my perspective, but "What's your favorite lunch menu?" sounds Japanese and should be avoided. You don't eat the menu. Maybe I've lived overseas too long and lave lost my perspective. Sanity check, please. Oh, they also have it as the title of the unit.
posted by planetkyoto to Writing & Language (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You are absolutely correct. If someone asked me that I'd assume they were trying to find out what my favourite restaurant is and that english is not their first language.
posted by Wantok at 11:27 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

At the very least, "What is your favorite lunch menu item?" sounds more English.
posted by birdherder at 11:28 PM on May 9, 2011

It doesn't sound very wrong to me, as long as the context is that there are multiple menus (i.e. lists of grouped items) to choose from. E.g. in a school where Monday is roast beef and vegetables followed by vanilla ice cream; Tuesday is stir fried noodles with a soup and an apple, Wednesday is pizza followed by yogurt with berries, etc. Then one student could ask another "Which is your favourite lunch menu?"

But I notice your exact wording is "What's your favourite..." That interrogative suggests an infinite range of possible choices, and does not match with the implications of "menu", in my mind.
posted by lollusc at 11:34 PM on May 9, 2011

Absolutely not correct English; almost gibberish in fact. Better might be "What's your favourite lunch dish?" or even just "What's your favourite lunch?"

As an aside, it reminds me of the "menu del dia" in Latin American countries, which is a kind of "set lunch special of the day" but you wouldn't call that a "menu" in English, either.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:38 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

ELT teacher in Poland checking in.

"What's your favorite lunch menu?" is shaky at best not only because native speakers would rarely-to-never actually say this in the context that the authors of the text apparently believe we would, but also because, pedagogically, asking "What's your favorite...?" usually leads students, in my experience, to name an item but not describe it, or explain much about why it's their favorite (when did the "favorite-ness" start? what are some second-place finishers in the race for favorite? do other people in your life agree?...).

If you're fishing for a new title, maybe "Lunchtime!" or "What's for lunch?" would work - and, happily, both are phrases that native speakers actually say.
posted by mdonley at 11:48 PM on May 9, 2011

In certain very specific contexts, "What's your favourite lunch menu?" is acceptable, but it strikes me as a bad translation from another language (though there are multiple languages it could be a bad translation from). In general, the menu is the entire list of meals served by a restaurant, so you're asking "of all the restaurants you know which serve lunch, which is the one which has the menu you like the most?" which is an odd question, and is not necessarily about the food on the menu (it could be the graphic design -- this question can only be asked in a very high context discussion, so if you were discussing designing a menu for your new restaurant, say).
posted by jeather at 11:53 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

If someone asked me what my favorite lunch menu was, I'd have absolutely no idea how to answer them. This is not correct English.
posted by hazyjane at 11:55 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

The only way this works is if "menu" in this context refers to a series of courses which together constitute a "favorite lunch". Maybe in questions like: "What's your favorite menu for a lazy Sunday lunch with the family?"

Otherwise if it's about picking one favorite from a list of restaurant dishes, it would be something like: "What's your favorite thing on the lunch menu?"
posted by philipy at 12:05 AM on May 10, 2011

I reckon it's perfectly viable English, though probably not a common phrasing. When you see an AskMe like "vegan relatives coming to dinner - need help with the menu" you don't think the asker wants to know how they should print a physical menu but that they want help in selecting dishes. The answer to "What's your favorite lunch menu?" would be a collection of food and drink that somebody likes as a complete lunch. However, "what's your favorite lunch?" would be a far more normal phrasing.
posted by russm at 12:07 AM on May 10, 2011

"What's your favorite holiday menu?" sort of works for me (turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving? barbeque, potato chips, and grape soda on the 4th of July?). For "What's your favorite lunch menu?" I have to envision something like a conversation between caterers. Perhaps there was a time when Good Housekeeping readers spoke like that about planning their everyday cooking, but I'm not sure. I suspect it of being a way Japanese speakers think about it.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:08 AM on May 10, 2011

I'm currently in Denmark. I've noticed that they use the word "menu" for a combination of items that you can order. E.g., in Kebab joints, a "kebab menu" is a kebab, fries and soda. "Pølse menu" is a hot dog, fries and soda. "Frokostmenu" ("lunch menu") is soup + course of the day + dessert + drink.

I think this misappropriation of the word 'menu' is at the heart of your mystery sentence, planetkyoto.
posted by krilli at 12:51 AM on May 10, 2011

It sounds wrong, somehow, unless you're asking the chef or cook to list a favorite group of foods that are to be served at lunch. Just asking a person what they like to eat for lunch should probably be something more like, "what's your favorite meal for lunch?"
posted by asciident at 12:56 AM on May 10, 2011

Or more naturally, "what do you like to eat for lunch?" I like the unit titles mdonley lists.
posted by asciident at 12:59 AM on May 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your comments, everyone. I can see that in several places they have constructed grammatical – but completely unnatural – sentences with no concern for real native-speaker usage. I'm going to school them in collocation and also make sure I'm not getting an "editor" credit on this book.
posted by planetkyoto at 1:24 AM on May 10, 2011

It's not the most idiomatic phrasing, but it's certainly not incorrect. My biggest beef with your analysis is:

"What's your favorite lunch menu?" sounds Japanese and should be avoided. You don't eat the menu.

Really? "Favorite" can refer to many more things than foods -- favorite places, favorite color, favorite combination of food items. Adding the word lunch to the sentence does not automagically make the sentence about eating, after all.
posted by jrockway at 2:50 AM on May 10, 2011

If somebody asked me this I'd probably think something like 'Do you mean laminated or plain paper? Single A4 sheet, brochure or fold-out portfolio style? Or do you mean the menus in a particular restaurant? Or do you mean the range of food served by a particular restaurant, and this is your way of asking where I might like to have lunch?'
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:26 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Japlisch, or 和製英語, as they say.
posted by zachawry at 3:36 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I were asked, I'd assume they were asking where I'd like to eat, and say as much. I am a native American-English speaker (and thus am also fluent in Smartass).
posted by Heretical at 3:39 AM on May 10, 2011

The only way this works is if "menu" in this context refers to a series of courses which together constitute a "favorite lunch".

This is exactly how I would parse the sentence in British English, and the sentence is absolutely fine if that is your intended meaning. That said it's not a common usage, and (in British English, at least) a more common phrasing would be "What's your favourite lunch?", where "lunch" refers to the meal as a whole, irrespective of number of courses/individual food items.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:11 AM on May 10, 2011

I'd be all like "uhhh... any that don't have dumb names for the sandwiches?" and then go off on a tangent about how I won't get ice cream at Cold Stone because I refuse to call a large a "Gotta Have It!!" and I never tip for fear of being sung to, and I would utterly confuse my English-learning friend.

In American English, "menu" usually refers to the physical list of every available item in a restaurant, from which a diner chooses one or two. Less often, it's used to describe the collection of dishes/courses served at a specific meal; this is usually only for special occasions, events, or fine dining. It seems a weird thing to ask, like "what's your favorite TV schedule" rather than favorite channel or show.

Better to ask "what's your favorite restaurant?" or "what do you like to eat for lunch?" If you use "what/where do you like" instead of "what's your favorite" it might sound more natural, since people don't always have favorite things.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:46 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, it Italy, too, the word "menù" tends to be used for a fixed-price, fixed content meal, similar to krilli's Danish example. Thus you might find the (printed) menu offering a "tourist menu", a "king-size menu", a "kids' menu", and so on, each of which would have a fixed sequence of two or three courses and including water (or perhaps wine), maybe a dessert, maybe coffee. So in that context, two English-speaking ex-pats in an Italian trat might conceivably use the OP's question, but it still seems "translated" when used in a UK or US context.
posted by aqsakal at 6:09 AM on May 10, 2011

I've traveled to several countries where lunch comes as a menu, a set program of different dishes/courses (potentially with choices of Menu A, Menu B, etc.). And it's referred to as such. "I'll take the lunch menu," or "I'd like Menu 4, please."

That said, none of those places are countries where English is the first language for most locals. As a native speaker of American English, it's not a construction that comes naturally to me, and I'm not sure it would be a useful thing to learn if one is boning up on practical English for use on a trip to the Anglophone world.

Though, on the other hand, if it's part of a unit on "What's your favorite...?", sure, why not?
posted by Sara C. at 6:21 AM on May 10, 2011

Oh, and re "it's not correct English" - of course it's correct English, as long as one is aware of the specific tradition of some places calling "sequence of items that forms a set meal" a menu as opposed to a "combo" or a "set meal" or whatever.

The problem isn't its grammaticality, the problem is that (in the USA) you don't often find the term "menu" used to describe that arrangement. Except, of course, that sometimes you do. It's not a typical idiomatic expression, but then language learning isn't just a list of common idioms to memorize.
posted by Sara C. at 6:54 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Koreans say this too, and in the same contexts as Japanese. In those contexts, it's not correct. I'm a descriptivist through and through, but this particular construction just isn't how native speakers talk--and leads to misunderstandings. That means it's incorrect.
posted by smorange at 8:47 AM on May 10, 2011

I feel as if I've tipped into bizarro world. "What's your favorite lunch menu?" sounds like a perfectly okay way to say "What's your favorite set of things to eat for lunch?" But I self-identify as a foodie and worked in the food business for a dozen perhaps I am not typical.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:17 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are two more natural and common questions this might mean:
- What do you like to have for lunch? or What's your favorite thing to have for lunch? (in general)
- What's your favorite thing on the menu (at this restaurant)?

As a unit topic, something more general like "What's for lunch?" might be better (although it would not be used in the context of restaurant ordering).

"What's your favorite lunch menu?" would only be appropriate in a restricted context - for example on a web forum discussing menus for home entertaining, or when you meant "what restaurant in town has the best lunch menu".
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:24 PM on May 10, 2011

Response by poster: I think the near-consensus here is that the construction in question is awkward at best, and certainly not likely to be used by a native speaker. I think that's really enough evidence to advocate that they not teach it when there are other phrasings more likely to be used by native speakers. Many thanks.
posted by planetkyoto at 7:53 PM on May 10, 2011

I think the near-consensus here is that the construction in question is awkward at best, and certainly not likely to be used by a native speaker.

Native of where?

A lot of people seem to be thinking in a rather peculiar way that someone is asking this question when referring to single dish, rather than a complete meal.

A 'menu' can mean several things.

1) The dishes available for purchase/consumption at a dining establishment.
2) The physical artifact listing the items in 1).
3) The dishes actually served at a meal [*].

Asking about "your favourite menu" in sense 3) might be rather unusual, but is perfectly correct [outside the U.S. it would appear]. However using this phrasing to refer to a single dish would be incorrect.

Some people seem to be confusing sense 1) & 2), we don't have a good way of differentiating the two in english, as we would with a conceptual 'story' which is contained in an artifact called a 'book'.

[*] In this part of the world, asking "what's on the menu" when sitting down to dinner at home would not be considered unusual phrasing [unless you were the cook].
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:58 PM on May 10, 2011

I'll agree (as someone who lives in Japan, teaching English). "Menu," in English, refers to a list of items available for order (usually food and drink). In Japanese, "メニュー" can also mean, in addition to that, a single item from the menu. That definition does not exist in English (outside of potential outliers).

"What's your favorite menu?" does not take, as an answer, "hamburger" any more than "What's your favorite juice?" can take "Coke" as an answer in English. Japanese speakers are sometimes unaware of the modified meanings that foreign words take on in their own language.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:35 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The people overthinking the ways in which "what is your favourite menu?" can be a legitimate question (in very specific & rare circumstances) are ignoring the context. This is for a textbook for non-english speakers.

The students are not going to be studying dialogues wherein a graphic designer is showing various menu designs to a restaurateur client. Nor are the dialogues going to feature people discussing whether to have the Menu Turistico or the Menu Ejecutivo whilst on holiday in Peru.

What the students will be getting will be in the order of:

Bob: Good afternoon, Jane!
Jane: Hi, Bob! How are you?
Bob: I am hungry.
Jane: Let's get lunch then.
Bob: OK. What is your favourite lunch menu thing to eat for lunch?
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:35 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Menu," in English, refers to a list of items available for order

it also (in English as I grew up speaking it, apparently a Commonwealth rather than US usage) means a selection of dishes that make a meal.

but yeah, "What's your favorite lunch menu?" implies you're going to be sitting down at a swanky restaurant for a multi-course lunch, and that probably isn't the scenario the asker's textbook is teaching people about.

also, in that scenario the rest of the question is too informal, but whatever.
posted by russm at 6:39 AM on May 11, 2011

"Menu," in English, refers to a list of items available for order

This is simply untrue, and to the extent that it is true in (some parts of) the US, it is true because of restaurant conventions and not the local variety of English.
posted by Sara C. at 8:08 AM on May 11, 2011

Sara, what in the world are you talking about? Let's look at the New Oxford American Dictionary. Menu's definition is as follows: "a list of dishes available in a restaurant." Which is what DoctorFedora said it means. The fact is, in East Asia, "menu" means a single item on a menu, as well as the standard definition. Onigiri, for example, would qualify as a "menu." So would bibimbap. It just doesn't mean the same thing in the United States, or in any other native English-speaking country.
posted by smorange at 11:39 AM on May 11, 2011

That cannot possibly be the only definition, or the complete definition, for that word, in any reasonably good dictionary.

You've never been to a restaurant that had a tasting menu or a price fixe menu or a brunch menu or a Thanksgiving Menu or an Easter Menu? Or eaten in a school cafeteria, or at Ikea? In all of those cases, you tell the staff, "I'll have the x menu," and aside from an option or two that might be offered, that is your order.

Not to mention that in a lot of parts of the world, going into a restaurant and asking for the menu will get you that day's special, not a piece of paper at all. It's less common in the Anglophone world, but it does happen. And even outside of countries where the national language is English, you still refer to it that way if you happen to be speaking English there.

I agree that a favorite "menu" is a weird favorite to ask someone about. It's more typical to ask about a favorite flavor of ice cream or pizza topping or what have you. But that doesn't mean it's incorrect English - just that it's a weird question to ask someone.
posted by Sara C. at 11:56 AM on May 11, 2011

What you're talking about is not what the OP is talking about. "Menu," in Japanese and Korean English, means "dish." "What's your favourite Italian menu?" is a perfectly understandable question in those countries, and in those languages too, where the English has been imported inexactly. The answer would be something like "spaghetti" or "meatballs." This usage is ubiquitous, both in restaurants and in casual conversation. The same simply cannot be said of North American, British, or Australian English.
posted by smorange at 12:32 PM on May 11, 2011

Sara, if it helps, try thinking of it in terms of "would you" rather than "could you." If you're at a restaurant asking someone what their favorite/recommended item, would you ask "What's your favorite menu?" (not "could you think of some not-entirely-inconceivable situation in which you could ask this question")

I mentioned the juice thing because Japanese does similar things with other words. In Japanese, "juice" (as a loanword) means "cold, sweet, nonalcoholic beverage," which includes things like Coke. This is simply a similar matter of a loanword diverging from its original meaning.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:03 PM on May 11, 2011

Not answering the question directly, but I would question the wisdom of writing an English textbook without, it appears, any use of a corpus. Relying on native speaker intuition is all well and good, but this is what corpora are for.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 1:43 PM on May 13, 2011

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