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What's on the Menu?, Food for Thought

Tricky Menu Tips: Ditto Marks, Prices, and More


Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, Manhattan., Digital ID 482799, New York Public LibraryWow. We're sitting here with our mouths agape, simply overwhelmed --and thrilled! -- by the response to What's on the Menu? We knew you guys liked food, but holy (broiled) mackerel!

We launched WOTM very quietly, just three days ago, and, as of this typing, we have over 22K dishes transcribed! And it's evident, from the emails and tweets we've been receiving, that we have some very enthusiastic participants out there. Thank you!

But as you may have noticed, each menu is very different. Each has its quirks and idiosyncricies. Some have clear prices, some don't have any. Some have odd language, some are very straightforward. Some use ditto marks to convey the same dish, others repeat, repeat, repeat.

The following are some tips to think about while transcribing that I hope will clear up confusion, but please send us more questions as they come, either in the comments section of this post, to our community hotline, or through the Twitterverse @nypl_menus. Your questions and comments help us build a better and more robust site! We may add to this post over time, and all of it will serve as a draft for a more robust Help section on the menus site, coming soon. Meantime, here's some advice on navigating some of the more common snags.

Is a menu totally finished if it reads "done"? 

Not quite. Every menu will go through a vetting process, where we will clean up any mixed-up prices, misspellings, etc. If it reads "done" it goes into a queue so that a NYPL staff member can review it. We haven't begun that review in earnest yet, but we're taking careful notes during this experimental first phase. Who knows, we may even re-open some of the menus at a later time for second-pass cleanup. Based on feedback, we're considering adjusting the status language to something like "locked for review." That may clear up the confusion. 

Making sense of cents

Believe it or not, a sirloin steak can cost as little as 25 cents. Crazy, I know. But some menus also include pricier items, such as a $2.50 Terrapin, Maryland. Therefore, we've defaulted the currency to dollars (if the menu is from the U.S.) and we're asking everyone to adjust accordingly. If a steak is 25 cents, please mark as .25 Obviously if you mess up (or see someone else mess up) it will be cleaned up later, but it always helps us to add that little decimal point.

What's the deal with the ditto?

Have you transcribed any bills of fare from a coffee shop or oyster bar? If so, you've probably enountered menus with ditto marks (") as in:

Eggs, Fried

  ", Poached

  ", Soft-Boiled

When transcribing a menu and coming across the ditto (sometimes the menu will read "do", too), it helps to think of each dish as a discrete item which will be added to a huge database in which one can pull up a specific dish, across all menus. Therefore, it's enormously helpful to have Eggs, Poached reflected instead ", Poached. So, please don't use the ditto. Instead, please retype the original food offering in-full. But again, no sweat, we'll be cleaning up as we go, too.

Halving it all

Like the ditto mark, when coming across a dish that advertises a half chicken, or something prepared two ways, make two discrete entries. So instead of entering "chicken, half chicken", please enter the chicken twice, as in: "chicken" and "half chicken." That also goes for menu options on the same line. So, "oatmeal or hominy" should read "oatmeal" and "hominy."

When in dish doubt, don't leave it out!

Still not sure? Email us!


Go to What's on the Menu?


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Along those same lines, many

Along those same lines, many menus are divided into sections such as "Soups", or "Cheeses" followed by the individual entries, such as "Tomato", "Macaroni", "Split Pea"..., or "American", "Swiss"...etc. In cases like this, should we enter "Tomato Soup" rather than "Tomato"?


Hi David, You bring up an important point. We will be doing the sectioning a little bit later, so there is no need to add Soup or Cheese to the dish names. Thanks for the great question and for your attention to detail! -Rebecca

Your guildeines

Thanks for the hints, and for the opportunity to ask questions. Will you index them and make the compilation available as an on-site reference? This is a great project!


Yes, we're working on an FAQ to help with all kinds of issues and it looks as though we'll be continuously adding to it! Thanks for your note! -Rebecca Federman

Same question as David above

If the heading on the menu is "Oysters," let's say, then the entries below, which are things like "Fry" or "Stew" would probably make more sense if they could include the word Oyster(s). But since the word oyster doesn't actually appear on the menu, maybe there should be some convention to indicate that, for example: [oyster] Stew or Stew [oyster]

Good idea!

Thanks David, this is very much along the lines of what we're thinking, and more or less follows the policy with ditto marks outlined above in the post. In these situations, it's best to include the header ingredient as you described. We're still contemplating the official convention — best practice for now is to go with the most sensible, familiar-sounding formulation: e.g. "Oyster stew". Leave out the brackets, we'll probably just have to exclude them later. Thanks again for your feedback/ideas!

Possible to suppress "done" menus?

For the ones marked as done, would it be helpful to suppress them for display so it will make it easier to find open menus to transcribe. What a great project.

"Done" is now "Under Review"

Thanks for your comment! To make things a little easier to follow, we've changed the "done" menus to "under review" which means that if you see something amiss in the transcription, you're welcome to unlock it (just click on the lock icon) and make corrections. We've also added some tabs to make it easier to find menus that still need transcription help. Just click on Browse Menus on the front page and you'll see the three tabs (To transcribe, Under review, Completed). Thanks again for your interest in the project! -Rebecca

what fun!

Amazingly fun way to spend my lunch break! But I wish I'd found this blog before I started -- now I see that you wanted me to split some combined entries into separate items. For example, how would you like (a made-up example since I can't flip back to another page) Roast Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Wild Onions to be transcribed? As 3 separate items? Following the advice to transcribe it exactly, I entered these as a single string. Like an earlier commenter, I too wondered whether SOUPS Mock Turtle should be entered as Mock Turtle (Soup) or simply Mock Turtle... Suggest you add a link to the blog entry with transcribing tips somewhere REALLY PROMINENT on every page. I did click the HELP tab in hopes it would show me lots of examples to follow (alas).

Wine Lists?

I stumbled upon your project and have enjoyed reading and transcribing the menus. I was the focus on the food dishes? Do you want the wine lists transcribed as well? Some of them are very daunting because there are hundreds of entries!

Wine Lists

Hi Betty, Great question -- I'm glad you asked! Yes. Ideally, we would love to have the wine lists transcribed, as well. I know some of the lists can be rather involved, but for oenophiles, these lists might prove to be goldmines of information. We'll see... Thanks for your interest in the project! -Rebecca

What about Pounds, Shillings, Pence

In line with your request about dollars and cents, how do we handle shillings and pence when we are doing English menus. I've seen several where the default is pounds, but the pound is not a decimal unit so you can't represent shillings by doing a .xx sort of entry. Shoudn't we be able to use d and p to represent shillings and pence?

I can't find it now, but I

I can't find it now, but I thought I saw mention somewhere of not wanting people to transcribe any of the miscellany on the page other than the actual menu items, and I wanted to say that I think that those things are often the most interesting parts of the menu. For example, I've transcribed a bunch of different train menus and noticed that the dishes can vary greatly, even within the same company. If you remove the notes that say which line/car the menu is from then you can't make those kinds of comparisons. (They also proudly proclaim where they obtain their table water, which surprised me.) Also, the proclamations about minimum charges, who to complain to, admonitions that patrons should exercise patience because meals are made individually, the announcement that during polo season the dinner hours have changed, etc, give small, but important, glimpses into expectations for social behavior for that time period that you're not going to find in any other documents.

Transcribing Quantities

I love this project! The website is super easy to use, and elegantly designed. Quick question on quantities. Say we've got tea by the cup and by the pot, for two different prices. Would you like those as separate entries ('Tea, cup', 'Tea, pot'), or one entry with a price range? This'll be helpful for wine lists, too, which usually offer pricing by glass, carafe, or bottle.

Keeping it simple (for now)

Hi Chris, thanks for your question. Go for one entry with a price range. We've debated this ourselves, but feel it's better to keep this as simple as possible for now. Keep an eye out for a new Help page on the main menus site, hopefully going live tomorrow!


The Help page is very good . . . so I'm sure that before long we'll see some guidance on how to transcribe prices not given in whole shillings but in shillings and pence!

Yes indeed!

Thanks for your compliments on the Help page. We'll be expanding it as we go. In the latest updates we did add a note about shillings. It's a sub-section of this topic: Let us know of anything else you find!


On the Norddeutscher Lloyd Bremen menu from June 15, 1901, Pfannkuchen was spelled Pfannknchen. I put it in exactly as it was on the menu. What do you want to do about misspellings such as these? Will the editors fix them? (of course, there could be a word Pfannknchen that I don't know about!).

Good question!

We've also added a Help topic for this:

Official Help page link We'll keep adding to this so post new questions/suggestions in this comment thread, or email to Big thanks to all!

Cigars, etc.

I've been following the "If you can eat or drink it, include it" rule. I've now come across cigars, cigarettes, and tobacco menu items (Cunard Lines menu). Should they be included? Thanks, I'm having fun with this project.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em

Hi Nancy, you make a good point! Let's go ahead and include tobacco items. In our next updates to the Help page, we'll modify the rule to something like: "If you can eat or drink it (or smoke it), include it" Got a nice rhythm to it... ;-)

What to include as one dish

What about items that are two things -- like a meat dish with a sauce. The ones I've done have had the meat dish, comma, sauce. I've been doing these as two separate things, but think this is probably wrong because people are going to want to know what, if any, sauce went with the dish. Is there any information that you know of (off the top of your head) that talks more about dining at the turn of the century? I just did a menu from the Waldorf Astoria. Radishes were a whopping .40 (there were meat salads that were only .60) and I'm wondering why the radishes were so high.

As to the wine lists...

As to the wine lists... When wines are categorized (e.g.,a grouping of "Bordeaux (Red)" or "Sherries") do you want us to include this in each entry? Or perhaps only if the listing is generic (e.g., a listing of "Table" in the "Port" group)?

wine lists

Regarding the above comment. I think I am working on the same menu. I have decided to go with including the information as it does make it more complete and sometimes changes the meaning - as in "California Claret Bordeaux (Red)". This project is so much fun!!

1917 Unnamed Restaurant

I believe this is Theodore Muller's Oyster and Chop House. The blurry vegetables and desserts on this handwritten menu match many of the offerings at Muller's 1918 menu. Several of the entrees are ala [sic] Muller. I have recorded "best guesses" using the 1918 printed menu as a guide.

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