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Oregon Family Magazine

Why Can’t I Read the Darn Menu?

02/28/2017 ● By Sandy Kauten

Recently, my husband Kevin and I went out to dinner sans kids, 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.

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.

“What? You want to plop the cat out the door?” I asked Kevin quizzically, looking around for an errant cat in the dining room.

“No, I said you dropped your napkin on the floor,” Kevin explained louder, pointing next to my chair.

We perused the menu for another minute 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 to be in another zip code, while Kevin adopted his best Robert Di Nero face as he tried to discern what camerones al ajillo means. Is this in Spanish . . . or can we really just not see . . . or both?

After struggling 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 help). 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.

In a thick Spanish accent, our waiter described these delicacies in detail, as we stared at him with rapt attention, trying to lip read. I was both enchanted by his charming voice and confused by everything he just said (MOSTLY because of the accent and 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 think) 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 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 can’t hear a word he just said.

The food truly 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 – 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 9pm travelling east on the highway at 45mph . . . .

We started to break out in a sweat, as we noticed the waiter came by twice to see if we’re ready to pay. In desperation, we break out the iPhone flashlight again, causing the other diners to turn and glare at whatever’s 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 out in the parking lot – hey, we scurried, remember? – and agreed that our next date night needs to be less stressful. We made a pact to choose the next restaurant based, not on type of cuisine or location or even what Groupon we haven't yet used, but on which one has the better overhead lighting.

Lisa Beach is a freelance writer, blogger, mother of two teenagers, and former stay-at-home mom/homeschooler who lived to write about it. Catch up with her at, a (mostly) humorous blog about family, friends, middle age and all the baggage that goes with it.