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ALISON PEARLMAN

Books

May We Suggest
  
Restaurant menus are everywhere. But we know little about how they work. In May We Suggest, I investigate how they try (and sometimes fail) to influence what we buy, how we dine, and how we feel about both.

Follow me as I visit restaurants of all types throughout the greater Los Angeles area and ask: How does a menu’s size, structure, imagery, language, materials, and pricing dictate what we buy or how we compose a meal? Does a fine-dining table menu try to hook us the same way as a signboard over a fast-food counter or a mobile-ordering app? What convinces us that one menu has enough choice and another too much or not enough? Along the way, I show how menus of differing styles operate. I also uncover what rhetoric works when, where, and why.

No book about restaurant menus is quite like this. It defines restaurant menus in a newly expansive way, considering spoken variants and displays of real food, not just sheets of paper and signboards. The analysis draws on an unprecedented range of disciplines, from experience design to behavioral economics. It is also the first study to examine how menus don’t persuade alone, but cooperate with restaurant décor, service, and other merchandising devices in the restaurant theater.

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Smart Casual

Smart Casual: The Transformation of Gourmet Restaurant Style in America is a cultural history of profound changes to the style of fine-dining restaurants in the United States since the 1970s. How do we explain their evolution from those hushed scenes of chandeliers and closed kitchens, jacket-and-tie dress and Continental cuisine, to clamorous places where diner-style decor and hamburgers are no longer impediments to a Michelin star...or two? And how do we reconcile this shift with the simultaneous rise of new formalities, such as the elaboration of tasting-menu rituals? While these currents may seem contradictory, Smart Casual considers them both parts of a cohesive "omnivorous" turn in gourmet taste whose leading tastemakers are star chefs and the "foodies" who love them. The book takes readers to the key dining rooms, people, and trends that mark the rise of omnivorous preferences, and considers the changes in taste in light of broader shifts in the definition of elite social status.

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Life Death Love Hate Pleasure Pain

Co-authored with Elizabeth A.T. Smith and Julie Rodrigues Widholm with contributions by many others, Life Death Love Hate Pleasure Pain is a comprehensive catalogue of the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

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